The Supreme Court Friday held nine people guilty of murdering former home minister Haren Pandya who was shot dead in 2003 while on a morning walk.
Restoring the trial court”s order that had held 12 persons guilty of various offences in the case, it said that the Gujarat High Court”s acquitting the nine people accused of the murder charge was “wholly uncalled for” and was based on a “wrong approach”.
The trial court had awarded jail term ranging from five years to life imprisonment to the 12 accused.
A bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra and Vineet Saran, while appreciating the evidence including forensic, medical and testimony of key witnesses, said that the trial court had rightly held nine persons guilty of murdering Pandya.
Regarding the three other accused — Mohmed Abdul Rauf, Mohd Shafiuddin and Shahnawaz Gandhi — the bench said since the CBI had not preferred to file any appeal against the lower court”s verdict absolving them of murder charges before the high court, “no further interference” was required.
Pandya was home minister in the then Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government and was shot dead on March 26, 2003 near Law Garden in Ahmedabad.
According to the CBI, Pandya was killed to avenge the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat.
“We restore the conviction and sentence imposed by the trial court on A1 (Mohmed Asgar Ali), A4 (Kalim Ahmed), A5 (Anas Machiswala), A6 (Mohmed Yunus Sareshwala), A7 (Rehan Puthawala), A8 (Mohmed Riyaz alias Goru), A9 (Mohmed Parvez Sheikh), A10 (Parvez Khan Pathan) and A11 (Mohmed Faruq) under section 3(1) and 3(3) of POTA and 120B (criminal conspiracy) and section 302 (murder) read with section 120B IPC as ordered by the trial court,” the bench said.
The top court, however, dismissed a PIL filed by NGO ”Centre for Public Interest Litigation” (CPIL) seeking a court-monitored fresh probe in the Pandya murder case.
It also imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on CPIL for filing the PIL observing that it was not a “bona fide” petition and “bereft of merit”.
“No ground for further reinvestigation or investigation is made out in the matter. The writ petition is dismissed with cost of Rs 50,000 to be deposited by petitioner with Supreme Court Bar Association Advocates Welfare Fund within a month,” the bench said while dismissing CPIL”s plea.
The apex court, in its 234-page judgement, noted the submissions of CBI that motive behind Pandya”s murder and the separate attempt to kill VHP leader Jagdish Tiwari in Ahmedabad in March 2003 was to “spread terror amongst the Hindus” post-Godhra riots.
The court disposed of the appeals filed by CBI, Gujarat Police, accused and others.
Regarding the three other accused, who were not convicted for murder charge by the trial court, the apex court said, “However, with respect to A2 (Mohmed Abdul Raouf), A3 (Mohd Shafiuddin) and A-12 (Shahnawaz Gandhi), the CBI did not prefer any appeal in the high court against them and since A3 (Mohd Shafiuddin) and A12 (Shahnawaz Gandhi) have completed the sentence fully awarded to them by the trial court and in the case of A2 (Mohd Abdul Raouf) as modified by the high court, no further interference is made and the appeal against them is dismissed.” Regarding 13th accused Mohd Sheikh, who had absconded during the trial and was convicted in a separate proceeding, the bench upheld the high court”s order convicting him under section 174-A (non-appearance in response to a proclamation notice) of the IPC.
While holding the nine accused guilty of murder charge, the bench took note of the trial court findings which had lent credence to the testimonies of the eye-witness, A Y Patel, with regard to the killing of Pandya.
It also noted that evidence revealed that some of the accused took training in Pakistan and had various meetings to execute the murder.
The bench analysed the evidence pertaining to criminal conspiracy to murder Pandya, to strike terror in a section of people and the involvement in terror activities.
Dealing with the recovery of .32 bore pistol and matching of fired bullets, which were taken out from Pandya”s body, the bench concurred with the trial court findings and testimonies of medical and forensic witnesses.
It also rejected the vehement contention of the accused that there were inconsistencies in the statements of some of the witnesses and moreover, Pandya”s wife was not examined.
“In our opinion, no dent is caused as Jagrutiben (wife of Pandya) and other persons were not the eye-witnesses. In case of any doubt, they could have been examined as defence witnesses. Jagrutiben, even if examined, would have proved the fact that deceased (Pandya) left for Law Garden at around 7 am and he would have reached there around 7.10 am. No benefit can be drawn from the aforesaid aspect,” it said.
It further said, “The acquittal recorded by the high court was wholly uncalled for and is based on basically a wrong approach. It was incumbent upon the high court to come a close quarter of reasoning employed by the trial court and assessment of the evidence of the witnesses done by the trial court with great care, in an elaborate manner.” The bench said that provisions of POTA, now repealed, on the aspect of recording of confessional statements of accused were complied with as they were afforded an opportunity by a judicial magistrate to record their version as per their wishes.