Ahmedabad: The prosecution in 2002 Gulberg housing society massacre case on Monday sought death penalty or life imprisonment till death for all the 24 convicts, calling the attack "barbaric and inhuman" even as a special court deferred further hearing on sentencing to June 9.
Pleading for maximum punishment, the prosecution said capital punishment could be considered by the court or the convicts be sent to jail and ordered to remain there till their last breath.
As arguments over the quantum of sentence that lasted for over two-and-a-half hours remained inconclusive, the special SIT court judge P. B. Desai adjourned further hearing in the case to Thursday.
The court had on Friday convicted 24 and acquitted 36 others, while dropping conspiracy charges in the killings of 69 persons including former Congress MP Eshan Jafri in Gulberg housing society on February 29, 2002 in post-Godhra riots when Narendra Modi was Gujarat chief minister.
The massacre shook the nation when a mob of 400 people set about attacking the housing society in the heart of Ahmedabad and killed the residents.
It was one of the nine cases of the 2002 Gujarat riots probed by the Supreme Court-appointed SIT.
Out of the total 66 accused, six died during the trial. Of the 24 convicted, 11 have been charged with murder, while 13 others including Vishwa Hindu Parishad(VHP) leader Atul Vaidya have been convicted for lesser offences. Public prosecutor representing the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT), R. C. Kodekar in his arguments before the court said as per section 149 IPC all those who are convicted should be given maximum punishment which is capital punishment
"If capital punishment is not considered, they should be sent to jail till they live," he said.
Section 149 of the IPC reads, "If an offence is committed by any member of an unlawful assembly in prosecution of the common object of that assembly, or such as the members of that assembly knew to be likely to be committed in prosecution of that object, every person who, at the time of the committing of that offence, is a member of the same assembly, is guilty of that offence."
"The manner of crime was cruel, barbaric and inhuman. Victims' bodies were roasted alive, in the crime for which there was no provocation, much less in case of women and children who were defenceless," Kodekar told the court.
"Out of those 39 bodies recovered after crime, 20 were women and six children. Most families of Gulberg Society lost their kith and kin while three families lost all members," Kodekar said.
"Out of 30 missing, 14 were women and eight children," Kodekar said, adding that women and children were defenseless and unarmed.
After the Gulberg Society incident, 39 bodies were recovered, while 30 others were declared dead as they were not traceable after seven years, taking the death toll to 69.
A lawyer for the victims S. M. Vora also sought maximum punishment for the accused and argued that sentencing for each offence should not run concurrently so that they spend their entire life in jail.
A lawyer for the accused, however, rejected the demand of capital punishment or maximum punishment in his arguments,
saying the incident was spontaneous and there were enough provocations for it.Vora also sought compensation for the victim's family.
"Apart from the sentence, compensation of exemplary nature is also required for survivors to ensure that there is no repetitions of such a crime," he told the court.
Lawyer of the accused, however, refuted the demand of capital punishment or maximum punishment in his arguments, saying that the incident was spontaneous and there were enough provocations for it.
"Since the conspiracy has not been established, asking the court for capital punishment on partially relied evidence is not appropriate," lawyer for the accused Abhay Bharadwaj submitted.
"There should be total certainty when capital punishment is given and the case should be beyond reasonable doubt. There should not be lingering doubt in the mind of judge," Bharadwaj said quoting earlier Supreme Court judgements. Accused's lawyer also tried to refute the prosecution charge that there was no provocation.
"It can't be said that there was no provocation or instigation from the other side as the mob was already enraged by Godhra carnage," Bharadwaj said.
"...it has been accepted in the investigation that in firing by (Eshan) Jafri, one person died and 15 others were injured.
The crowd at that time thought that other 15 who were injured have also died... the atmosphere was surcharged," he said, adding that the incident was not a result of unilateral action.
The incident had taken place a day after S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express was burnt near Godhra train station in which 58 'kar sevaks' going to Ayodhya were killed.
The Supreme Court, which has been monitoring the case, had directed the SIT court to give its verdict by May 31.
During the course of trial, as many as 338 witnesses were cross-examined, with four different judges having presided over the case.
Of the 66 accused named by the SIT in the case, nine are behind bars, while others are out on bail.
One accused, Kailash Dhobi, had jumped the parole and even failed to turn up in the court, thereby being declared absconding. He has been convicted for murder in the case.
As many as eight charge sheets were filed in the case, the last being on May 16, 2009 by the Supreme-Court-appointed SIT after the apex court intervened on a petition filed by the victims' family members.
Sitting BJP corporator Bipin Patel was among the acquitted while VHP leader Atul Vaidya figures among the 13 convicted for lesser offences.
K. G. Erda, the then police inspector of the area in which the Gulberg Society was located and former Congress corporator Meghsinh Chaudhari were among those who were acquitted.