Eighteen persons pronounced guilty of murder in the 2002 Ode massacre case were on Thursday sentenced to life imprisonment, while five others — convicted of attempt to murder, abetment to crime and unlawful activities — were each sentenced to seven years in jail.
The special fast track court judge, Poonam Singh, while delivering the verdict in the case on Monday, had found 23 persons guilty of criminal conspiracy, while acquitting 23 others of all charges. She had reserved order on the quantum of punishment to the convicted.
The court also imposed a fine of Rs. 5,800 each on the 18 persons sentenced to life and Rs. 3,800 each on the others.
Verdict to be challenged
Soon after the pronouncement, Ashwin Dhagat, advocate for the convicted persons said he would challenge the verdict in the Gujarat High Court, while the special public prosecutor, who was pressing for death sentence for those convicted of murder, said the prosecution, after studying the special court's order, would decide whether to approach the higher court for enhancing sentences as well as against the acquittal of 23 others.
A large number of family members and relatives of the convicts broke down on hearing the quantum of punishment and alleged that the accused had, in the name of justice, been handed down injustice. Claiming that there was no evidence against any of the persons accused of murder, the relatives were heard saying, “This is not a temple of justice. This is the temple of injustice.”
While some of them were seen crying inconsolably, others indulged in slogan-shouting against the police and the judiciary. The police used mild force to remove the agitated family members and the relatives from the court campus.
Mr. Dhagat wondered how the court held the 23 accused guilty when many of the prosecution witnesses were giving contradictory statements. “We will come to know the grounds of the judgement only after we get copy of the verdict, but certainly we will challenge the order in the High Court,” he said.
Special public prosecutor P.N. Parmar said he was not satisfied with the quantum of punishment because the court had not accepted the prosecution's plea to consider it as the “rarest-of-rare” cases and award capital punishment to the 18 found guilty of murder and conspiracy. The prosecution was also not happy with the acquittal of the 23 other accused, he said.
Twenty-three people, including nine women and as many children, were burnt alive by a riotous mob at Ode village in Anand district in central Gujarat on March 1, 2002, and another person was killed the next day in the aftermath of the Godhra train carnage.
It was one of the nine cases being investigated by the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team and third after the Godhra carnage and the Sardarpura massacre, in which the verdict had been delivered so far. Of the total 47 accused held for the Ode massacre, one died during the trial.