Haren Pandya murder case: SC sets aside acquittal of 12

The Supreme Court convicted 12 persons on Friday for killing former Gujarat home minister Haren Pandya in 2003.

The Supreme Court on Friday set aside the Gujarat High Court's 2011 judgement that had acquitted nine out of 12 convicts, undergoing life term, in the case of sensational killing of then State Home Minister Haren Pandya on March 26, 2003 in Ahmedabad during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's regime as chief minister of the state.

The case has sparked several conspiracy theories, including that this was a political murder.

On Monday, a bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Vineet Saran sought to put to rest all doubts around the CBI probe by restoring the trial court's judgement of June 25, 2007 which awarded life imprisonment to nine persons and handed out sentences ranging from five to seven years to the other three under various provisions of the IPC, Arms Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002.

The high court had on August 29, 2011 doubted the presence of eyewitnesses on the spot and rejected confessional statements as weak evidence to acquit the accused.

After going through the materials, the top court said, “The acquittal by the high court was wholly uncalled for and is based on basically a wrong approach. It was incumbent upon it to come a close quarter of reasoning employed by the trial court and assessment of the evidence of the witnesses with great care, in an elaborate manner. The high court has failed to consider the reasons and has jumped to the conclusion.”

It also rejected a plea by NGO 'Centre for Public Interest Litigation' which sought reinvestigation into the case and imposed Rs 50,000 cost, saying this was not “bona fide” and was “bereft of merit”.

“The matter should have rested finally as the petition filed by the family members also stands dismissed by this court raking up of the matter, again and again, is not permissible and was wholly unwarranted in the facts and circumstances of the case. The same amounts to political vendetta,” it said.

The NGO had cited Azam Khan, a witness' version in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case wherein he reportedly stated that Tulsiram Prajapati told him that he killed Pandya at the instance of senior police officer D G Vanzara and other political executives of the state. It also relied upon a book by journalist Rana Ayyub to buttress its arguments.

“There is absolutely no material for that purpose,” the court said.

The top court also did not find in any irregularity in dropping Pandya's wife Jagrutiben as a witness by the CBI. It also pointed out the CBI officer, who investigated the matter, did not find any material with “respect to political rivalry on the basis of the vague statement of Vithalbhai Pandya, father of deceased”.

Justice Mishra authored the 234-page judgement on separate appeals filed by the CBI and the Gujarat government.

Pandya, a minister of state for home in the then Narendra Modi government in Gujarat, was shot dead in Ahmedabad near Law Garden area of the city during morning walk.

The CBI claimed following killing of 'Kar Sevaks' in Sabarmati Express at Godhra on February 27, 2002, a riot broke out in the state, resulting into death of large number of Muslims and loss of their properties. A conspiracy was hatched by Mufti Sufiyan Patangia (absconding) a cleric of Lal Masjid, Ahmedabad and Rasool Khan Pathan and alleged ISI operative, presently based in Pakistan, to strike terror amongst Hindus. Subsequently, they made an attempt on the life of VHP leader Jagdish Tiwari followed by killing of Pandya.

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