The Bombay high court on Monday upheld the life sentences served to four of the accused in the 2002 Best Bakery riots case of Gujarat but acquitted five others, overturning a trial court ruling.
A division bench comprising Justices V M Kanade and P D Kode gave the "benefit of doubt" to five of the nine accused who had challenged their conviction and life sentence handed down by the trial court in 2006, as witnesses failed to identify them.
Rajubhai Baria, Pankaj Gosavi, Jagdish Rajput, Suresh alias Lalo Devjibhai Vasava, and Shailesh Tadvi, were acquitted of the charges as the judges said there was no evidence against them and none of the witnesses had attributed any role to them during the riots.
However, the bench that had reserved the judgement on July 3, upheld the life sentence of Sanjay Thakkar, Bahadur Singh Chauhan, Sanabhai Baria and Dinesh Rajbhar for their involvement in the riots that had claimed 14 lives and left several others wounded.
The violence, part of the 2002 Gujarat religious riots, saw a mob of mainly Hindus attack a group of Muslims who had taken shelter inside the Best Bakery at Vadodara, on March 1, 2002 just days after the Godhra incident.
According to estimates by human rights groups, about 2,500 people, most of them Muslims, were hacked, beaten or burned to death in Gujarat after a suspected Muslim mob burnt alive 59 Hindu activists and pilgrims inside a train in February 2002 in Godhra.
Monday's verdict relied heavily on the testimonies of four injured eyewitnesses, Tufil Ahmed Siddiqui, Raees Khan, Shahzad Khan Pathan and Shailun Khan Pathan , who were employees at the bakery.
"The witnesses have identified these four accused as carrying swords, soda bottles and kerosene bottles and attacking them. They have survived through the skin of their teeth and escaped from the clutches of death. Considering the ordeal they have undergone, it is a miracle they survived," the court said.
"Normally, such witnesses would not implicate the accused. If they wanted to falsely implicate, then they would have taken the names of all the nine accused. But they have identified only these four," Justice Kanade said.
The court also expressed displeasure at the hasty probe in the case, saying "There has been a serious lapse in the investigation and the manner in which statements of witnesses were recorded."