Ahmedabad, Apr 20: The Gujarat High Court on Friday acquitted former state minister Maya Kodnani and upheld Babu Bajrangi’s conviction in the 2002 Naroda Patiya riot case. The order was passed by Justice Harsha Devani and Justice AS Supehia on the appeals moved by 32 convicts, including former Gujarat minister Maya Kodnani, who were sentenced to life imprisonment for their roles in the Naroda Patiya case in which 97 Muslims were massacred on February 28, 2002 reportedly to exact revenge for the deaths of 57 kar sevaks killed in the Godhra train carnage.

Out of the 32 convicts in the case, Gujarat High court acquitted 17 people including Maya Kodnani while, conviction of 12 was upheld. The verdict on two others is awaited, one accused is dead.

All 12 convicts have been awarded 21 years of imprisonment without remission. 11 witnesses gave different statements on Maya Kodnani’s presence at the location but there were contradictions: Prashant Desai, Special Public Prosecutor, was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

In August last year, a division bench of justices Harsha Devani and AS Supehiya had reserved the order in the case after the hearing concluded.

Meanwhile, a special court for SIT cases, in August 2012, had sentenced 32 people, including former BJP minister Maya Kodnani, to life imprisonment. Kodnani was sentenced to 28 years of imprisonment. Another high-profile accused, former Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi, was given life imprisonment till death. Kodnani is currently out on bail. The trial court had held that she was the mastermind of the violence in Naroda area.

Seven accused were given enhanced life imprisonment of 21 years, which they will serve after undergoing 10 years imprisonment under IPC section 326 (causing grievous hurt). Remaining accused were given simple life imprisonment (14 years). The trial court also acquitted 29 other accused for want of evidence.

While the convicts challenged the lower courts order in the high court, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appealed against the acquittal of 29 people.

A number of high court judges including justices Akil Kureshi, MR Shah, KS Jhaveri, GB Shah, Sonia Gokani and RH Shukla recused themselves from the case during the hearing on appeals.

On February 27, 2002, S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express train was set on fire in which 57 kar sevaks were burnt to death. Gujarat bandh was called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal on the next day of the incident. In protest against the incident, a mob came out on the road in Naroda-Narol Highway and gathered at Naroda Patiya on February 28.

SIT report in the case states that around 9.30 AM on February 28, Dr Maya Kodnani came near Noorani Masjid and made a provocative speech. “Kill Muslims, destroy the property of Muslims,” she reportedly said. Soonafter, the mob went on a rampage after she left the place. Kodnani was witnessed at the scene of offence by at least 10 witnesses.