Godhra Riots: Judge presiding the trial transferred

Godhra Riots: Judge hearing Naroda Gam trial transferred

In a sudden move that is set to delay the trial of Naroda Gam massacre case of 2002 post-Godhra riots, the principal judge, who was presiding over the case, was transferred by the order of chief justice of Gujarat High Court along with over three dozen other judges.

The trial of Naroda Gam was at the fag end with only the final argument of accused former Gujarat minister and BJP leader Maya Kodnani was left in the case before pronouncement of judgement.

Principal sessions judge M K Dave, who was hearing the trial, was transferred to south Gujarat's Valsad district.

He will be replaced by principal judge S K Baxi from Bhavnagar district court.

At least two senior members of Special Investigation Team (SIT), appointed by the Supreme Court that probed the case, told this paper, "This transfer will delay the case for at least a year. The new judge will have to hear the whole argument afresh before pronouncing the judgement."

They said that there are 187 prosecution witnesses, 60 defence witnesses and other relevant documents that run in over 1,200 pages.

The new judge will have to go through entire documents to understand the case. The outgoing judge Dave had started hearing final argument in February 2018 and before his transfer order was issued he had already heard argument of SIT and by defence lawyers of 81 accused. Only Kodnani's defence argument was to be completed.

"This is yet another setback for 2002 riot victims who have been awaiting justice for 18 years. Late justice also amounts to injustice," said advocate Shamshad Pathan, who represents some of the victims.

Apart from Kodnani, former Bajrang Dal leader Babubhai Patel alias Babu Bajrangi and VHP leader Jaideep Patel are among the 82 people who are accused of killing 11 Muslims in their homes at Naroda Gam on February 28, 2002.

Kodnani, who was a local MLA of Naroda Assembly seat, is alleged to have led the rioters on a rampage in the Muslim-dominated Naroda Gam.

She is accused of leading and instigating the mob for avenging the killing of 57 Kar Sevaks at Godhra railway station who were burnt alive while travelling in the Sabarmati Express train.

The SIT has alleged that she was spotted leading the angry mob from 9:30 to 10:30 which has been established by a number of eye-witnesses. In her defence, Kodnani has claimed she was not at the scene of offence and instead there are witnesses that confirm her presence at the state Assembly in Gandhinagar and Sola civil hospital in Ahmedabad.

To prove it, she had brought Union Home Minister Amit Shah, her husband Surendra and several others in the witness box in 2018. Shah told the court that he saw her in Assembly at around 8:30 am and then at Sola civil hospital at around 11-11:15 am.

The SIT probe, on the other hand, revealed that she attended the Assembly which was suspended within minutes after paying condolences to train carnage victims.

From the Assembly, she reached Naroda Gam and then went to the neighouring society Naroda Patiya where a large number of Hindus had already assembled.

SIT has accused Kodnani of conspiracy along with other co-accused that led to the killing of 11 Muslims in Naroda Gam and 96 in Naroda Patiya.

Kodnani, a doctor, was held guilty in the Naroda Patiya massacre and was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2018, the Gujarat High Court acquitted her. The order is under challenge in the Supreme Court.

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