Ahmedabad: A special sessions court, which was to pronounce the quantum of sentence for those convicted of the massacre of 69 people at the Gulberg Housing Society here in 2002, on Monday put off its decision to June 9 with the arguments still continuing in the case.
Among those killed was septuagenarian former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri.
Special Sessions Court Judge P.B. Desai in his verdict, 14 years after the massacre, on Thursday convicted 24 people, including Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Atul Vaidya but rejected the charge of conspiracy. Thirty six persons, including ruling Bharatiya Janata Party municipal corporator Bipin Patel, were acquitted.
The killings took place on February 28, 2002.
The special SIT court opened on Monday afternoon to arguments from the counsel for the victims, the defence lawyers and the prosecution ahead of the pronouncement of the punishment by the judge.
S.M. Vora, advocate of the victims, pressed for the maximum punishment to the guilty arguing that it was a mass murder committed in cold blood and the case should be considered as rarest of rare.
Vora also argued that in such cases the families of the victims and the survivors of the attack should be given compensation for their suffering.
Prosecution lawyer R.C. Kodekar argued that the convicts should be awarded life imprisonment till death if not capital punishment. During the argument, the court asked the prosecution to justify and explain why the punishment in the case should be more than 14 years.
Appearing for the convicts, Abhay Bhardwaj said the punishment should be according to the various sections of the Indian Penal Code invoked on the accused.
He argued that crime could not be said to be committed in cold blood since the attack on the Gulberg Society began only after former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri resorted to firing.
He admitted the atmosphere was tense outside the housing society where mobs had gathered, angry over the killing of 58 people in the Sabarmati Express train at Godhra on February 27, 2002.
Bhardwaj contended that Jafri, against whom an offence under the Arms Act was registered in the case, opened fire in such a tense situation and this provoked the crowd, leading to the attack on the residents of the Gulberg Society. He said 15 people were injured in the firing by Jafri.
He also wanted the court to consider the fact that the convicts had committed the crime for the first time in their lives and were not hardened criminals with any previous record. And also that they did not commit any offence during their bail period. The lawyer also pointed out that the court had thrown out the charge of conspiracy in the case.
Of the 24, the court had adjudged 11 guilty of murder and 13 guilty of lesser crime. Atul Vaidya has been convicted for lesser crime under Section 436, among others, for attacking and burning shops and houses.
The court declared 36 of the 66 accused not guilty for want of evidence and ordered their acquittal.
Besides BJP corporator Bipin Patel, police Inspector K.G. Erda was also set free by the court. Erda had lodged the first information report in the incident but was later included among the accused persons.