//Best Bakery case: 9 get lifer, 8 acquitted

Best Bakery case: 9 get lifer, 8 acquitted

JUDGEMENT DAY: Perjury charges are to be framed against Zahira

Mumbai: A Mumbai Sessions Court has convicted nine and acquitted eight out of the 21 accused in the Best Bakery case.

Four accused are still absconding, however, the nine convicted who have been sentenced to life imprisonment are Rajubhai Dharamveer, Baria Pankaj, Virendragir Gosai, Bahadur Singh alias Jeetu Jagdish, Rajput Dinesh, Phulchand Rajbhar, Shanabhai Chimanbhai Baria Shailesh Tadvi and Suresh Lalubhai.

Judge Abhay Tipsay said that perjury charges are to be framed against Zahira, however, human rights activist Teesta Setalvad who took up Zahira’s case with the National Human Rights Commission has been cleared by the court.

Setalvad was alleged to have tutored Zahira to change her statements in court.

"The entire process of the trial was transparent and this should set a precedent for the future," Setalvad said.

"The prosecution in Mumbai did a thorough job. In Mumbai out of 75 witnesses only five turned hostile unlike Gujarat where they made a mockery out of the case," Setalvad added.

Zahira has also been charged with a show-cause notice.

Testified : Raees Khan, Sailun, Faizad Khan, Toufiq Sheikh and Yasmin Sheikh (sister-in-law of Zahira Sheikh)
Hostile : Nafissulah, Nasibullah (brothers of Zahira Sheikh) Sehrunissa and Sahira Sheikh (mother and sister of Zahira)

Meanwhile, the Congress has demanded the resignation of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Reacting to the judgement, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said, "The Gujarat state government’s role in protecting the guilty has been proved by the judgement. The CBI should immediately take over the case."

Actor Rahul Bose also came out in support of the judgement and said, "This was a very good judgement. The Gujarat government had not delivered justice as had been required."

It has been four years since the attack on Best Bakery in Vadodara on March 1, 2002.

In a post-Godhra backlash, fourteen people including two children from the minority community, were killed as rioters set the bakery located in Vadodara’s Hanuman Tekri area on fire.

Eleven of those dead belonged to one family – that of Zahira Sheikh. Zahira later became the key witness in the trial and has been at the centre of media attention for her continuous flip-flops.

One of the most controversial cases in recent times, the history of the case has seen many ups and downs.

Following an FIR filed by Zahira’s family, the Gujarat government filed charges against 21 people and set up a fast track court in May 2002.

But the prosecution was in for a rude shock when Zahira retracted her statement in court. Following her statement, the accused were let off.

Just a week after the acquittal, Zahira said, she was threatened by the local BJP MLA Madhu Shrivastava and his cousin, Congress councilor Chandrakant Srivastava to retract the statement.

She, then, demanded the transfer of the case outside Gujarat.

The National Human Rights Commission jumped into the fray and came to Zahira’s rescue.

The Commission also filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court asking for a retrial outside Gujarat.

Conceding to the Commission’s petition, the Supreme Court ordered a retrial and transfered the trial out of Gujarat to Maharashtra in April 2004.

But once again in November 2004, Zahira turned hostile.

A few other family members of Zahira, including her mother, also changed statements during the deposition.

However, Zahira’s cousin – Yasmin Sheikh – who appeared as a witness on the same date, identified 11 of the 21 accused.

A Supreme Court panel which looked into the case proclaimed Zahira a liar. The Sessions Court has since relied on the evidences provided by those who have stood their ground.