Anshika Mishra, Saturday, February 25, 2006 02:44 IST
MUMBAI: More than two and a half years after they were acquitted by a fast-track court in Vadodara for “lack of evidence”, nine of the 21 men who attacked the Best Bakery on March 1, 2002, were sentenced to life in prison by another court in Mumbai. Commending Friday’s verdict as a “vindication of justice”, special public prosecutor Manjula Rao said, “The court has convicted nine persons on the basis of the same charge sheet and evidence presented before the Vadodara court, which acquitted all the accused.”
In the packed fifth-floor courtroom at Mazgaon, Judge Abhay Thipsay first called out the names of the eight persons acquitted in the case. The other nine sat nervously in the enclosure for the accused. Some of them began chanting prayers.
Judge Thipsay said the prosecution had not asked for the death penalty for any of the accused and since there were no witnesses to the specific parts played by the accused, capital punishment was not called for.
Apart from the life term for the nine convicted, the court awarded them imprisonment ranging from one to ten years on various charges.
The convicts have been fined Rs33,000 each. Of this amount, Rs20,000 will be paid to four injured witnesses, while Rs60,000 and Rs40,000 will be given to relatives of Kausar Shaikh and Mulla Shaikh, respectively, who were killed in the attack on the bakery on March 1, 2002.
Five witnesses clinched it
The testimony given by five eyewitnesses in the Best Bakery incident clinched the case, said investigating officer P P Kanani.
The five including Yasminbanu, Zaheera’s sister-in-law, and four bakery workers were not examined during the trial in Vadodara. The acquittal of all the 21 accused by the Vadodara fast track court had been a major blow for the investigating officer, who had collected exhaustive evidence in the case. Ultimately, nine accused were convicted on the basis of the same charge sheet filed by Kanani before the Gujarat court.
The five eyewitnesses identified the accused and their testimony comprised 996 of the 3686 pages of evidence recorded. A total of 75 witnesses were examined by the court.
Perjury awaits others
MUMBAI: Special Sessions Judge Abhay Thipsay issued perjury notices to the five witnesses who turned hostile during the proceedings.
Zaheera Shaikh, her mother Sahrunissa, sister Saherabanu, brothers Nafitullah and Nasibullah did not support the prosecution saying they had not seen the torching of the bakery.
Judge Thipsay took strong objection to the flip flop on their statements and asked them to explain within three weeks why they should not be prosecuted for giving false evidence before the court. The matter will be heard on March 20.
According to special public prosecutor Manjula Rao, the five witnesses turning hostile did not make a big dent in the case as there was sufficient evidence to nail the guilty.
Lawyers said perjury notices are rarely issued by courts as the offence is difficult to prove.
Zahira Shaikh: The prime accused in the case failed to identify the accused stating that she lost her senses on seeing her sister’s dead body.
Nafittulah: Zahira’s elder brother turned hostile and failed to identify the accused stating that he was injured and left unconscious during the incident.
Nasibullah: Zahira’s younger brother stated that Yasmin was not in Vadodara when the incident occurred. He said he didn’t remember the faces of the accused as he had fainted. Saherabanu: Zaheera’s sister said she lay unconscious under a blanket through the night of the incident and failed to identify the accused.
Long winding road
1 March, 2002
Best bakery attacked two days after the Godhara Train carnage. 14 were killed.
Police registers First Investigation Report on the basis of eyewitness Zaheera Sheikh’s testimony, which included accused’s names.
7 May, 2003
Zaheera’s brother Nafitullah and sister Saira appear before Vadodara court and testify.
17 May, 2003
Zaheera, brother Nafitullah and mother Seherunnisa give totally new testimonies changing their earlier testimonies given to the police.
27 June, 2003
Additional Judge HU Mahida declares all 21 accused of the Best Bakery case innocent in a judgement.
7 July 2003
Zaheera holds a press conference with the help of NGO Citizen for Justice and Peace, tells media that she and her family received death threats and were forced to change their testimonies in Vadodara Court.
1 August, 2003
NHRC files a petition in the Supreme Court appealing for a new inquiry in the case and to take the case procedure out of Gujarat.
8 August, 2003
NGO Citizens for Justice and Peace and Zaheera Sheikh file an appeal in the Supreme Court.
21 November, 2003
Supreme Court issues a stay order in all the riots cases including the Godhra Train Carnage case.
12 April, 2004
A Supreme Court division Bench orders to take out the procedures of the case to Maharashtra (Outside Gujarat).
9 September, 2004
Zaheera’s brother states before Vadodara court that he had received a death treat.
22 September, 2004
Chargesheet was formed in Mumbai Court.
4 October, 2004
Case procedure begin in Mumbai Court.
1 November, 2004
An eyewitness recognises five accused in Mumbai Court.
3 November, 2004
Zaheera holds a press conference in Vadodara, creates a storm by stating that she was held captive for seven months by Teesta Setalwad. Further she states that she holds on to her testimony given to the fast track court.
24 February, 2006
Mumbai Court issues its judgment in the Best Bakery Case. Convicts nine of the 21 accused, acquits other eight. The rest are absconding.