Ahmedabad: Eighteen people have been sentenced to life and five other convicts given seven years in prison in the Ode massacre case in which 23 people were burnt alive by a mob during the Gujarat riots of 2002. The sentence was pronounced by special court judge PB Singh, who had convicted the 23 in the massacre case on Monday while acquitting 23 others.
All the 18 were found guilty of murder and criminal conspiracy and five others for attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy. The court also imposed a fine of Rs 5,800 each on the accused sentenced to life imprisonment and Rs 3,800 each on the five convicts awarded jail term for seven years.
However, the families of the 23 convicts are protesting outside the court, saying that it is an unjust verdict. The prosecution had argued that the massacre was a "rarest of the rare" case and so all the 23 convicts should be sentenced to death.
Special Public Prosecutor PM Parmar said, "Court has declined our plea for capital punishment for the murder accused. However, it has sentenced 18 people to life imprisonment. We will be studying the order of the court and then decide on the future course of action whether to appeal for capital punishment in the higher forums and also decide to appeal against the acquittal of 23 others."
Meanwhile, counsel Ashwin Dhagad said that the defence would challenge the verdict in the High Court. "Statements of witnesses have been contradictory and how the court has appreciated those facts that we will come to know only after we get the copy of the judgement," he said.
A total of 47 people had been chargesheeted in the case. While one person died during the course of the trial, two are still absconding.
At least 23 people taking shelter in a house in Pirwali Bhagol area at Ode village in Anand district were killed on March 1, 2002 when a mob set it on fire during the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat. The 23 people burnt alive in Ode include nine children and eight women. The police could later recover only two skeletons from the house which was set on fire by the rioting mob.
The Ode massacre was one amongst the nine post-Godhra riot cases investigated by the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigating Team (SIT).
The massacre took place after 59 karsevaks returning from Ayodhya were burnt to death after a fire broke out in the S6 compartment of Sabarmati Express train at Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002.
After allegations that Gujarat Police had not been able to investigate the case impartially, it was handed over to the Supreme Court-appointed SIT, which filed a chargesheet against 47 accused in the case.
The trial finally started in November 2009 and 158 witnesses were cross-questioned out of which 35 turned hostile.
The SIT urged the court to place the massacre in the rarest of the rare category. It is, therefore, likely to seek capital punishment or life sentence for the accused who were allegedly actively involved in the massacre.
Out of the 10 riot cases investigated by the SIT on the instructions of the Supreme Court Court, the Ode massacre is the third in which a judgement has been delivered.