The Bombay high court acquitted five of the nine who were sentenced to life imprisonment for their role in 2002 Best Bakery riots case of Gujarat.
While this in itself is a setback for the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the court even expressed its displeasure over the tardy probe. It observed that there were lapses in the investigation and in the manner in which witnesses’ statements were recorded.
A division bench of justices VM Kanade and PD Kode acquitted Rajubhai Baria, Pankaj Gosavi, Jagdish Rajput, Suresh alias Lalo Devjibhai Vasava and Shailesh Tadvi. The judges said, “These five should be given the benefit of doubt as no witness has identified them as part of the mob that attacked Best Bakery.”
The court upheld life sentence of four others — Sanjay Thakkar, Bahadursingh Chauhan, Sanabhai Baria and Dinesh Rajbhar — who were named by the bakery staff. “The four eyewitnesses have identified these four as those who attacked them with swords and soda and kerosene bottles. Considering the ordeal of these witnesses, it’s a miracle they survived. Had they wanted to falsely implicate the accused, they would have named all the nine,” said justice Kanade.
The court was hearing appeals filed by the nine challenging their convictions and appeal by the CBI challenging a trial court’s acquittal of eight people in February 2006.
On March 1, 2002, a mob attacked Best Bakery in Vadodara. It targeted the Muslims inside, and looted and burnt the bakery, killing 14 people including the Shaikhs who ran the bakery. Three Hindus who worked at the bakery were also killed.