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SC grants bail to 14 convicts serving life terms for Gujarat riots | India News

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NEW DELHI: In an unusual order, the Supreme Court on Tuesday granted bail to 14 persons convicted for their role in killing of 23 people in Ode (in Gujarat’s Anand district) during the 2002 post-Godhra riots during the pendency of their appeals. The court also ordered them to be shifted outside Gujarat, asked them to do spiritual and social work and directed the legal services authority to find them work to earn a livelihood.

The CJI-led bench asked the state legal services authority to supervise their activities and report to the court about compliance of its order and also about their conduct.

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These persons’ appeals challenging the Gujarat High Court judgment awarding them life sentence have been pending in the SC since 2018 and each has been in jail for around seven years. Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for Gujarat, opposed bail on the ground that it was a serious case where 23 people were killed and the trial court as well as Gujarat HC had concurrently held them guilty. Senior advocate P S Patwalia said many appellants’ convictions were based on sole witness accounts in violation of guidelines laid down by the SC.

Find work to let the convicts earn livelihood: CJI

A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices B R Gavai and Surya Kant segregated the appellants into two groups — those convicted on the basis of sole eyewitness accounts and others whose convictions were based on testimony of two eyewitnesses. The first group will be shifted from Gujarat jail to Indore and the second kept in Jabalpur, both in Madhya Pradesh. Since their appeals are pending in the SC, they can be granted bail.

After releasing them on a bail bond of Rs 25,000 each, the bench asked them to carry out spiritual and social work and not leave the districts of Indore and Jabalpur without prior permission. Finding that almost all of them were first-time offenders and had no criminal antecedents, the court asked the district legal services authority to help them find work to earn a livelihood.

CJI Bobde said, “Let us experiment. We direct district legal services authorities to help them out in getting some work to earn a livelihood.” Appearing for the appellants, Patwalia told the court that convictions were recorded by the trial court on the basis of affidavits prepared by NGOs. Mehta countered and said there were no NGOs in this case. But Patwalia read out a statement where the witness had stated that his affidavit was prepared by an NGO.

Patwalia said the HC failed to take into consideration the SC judgment guiding courts below to apply the principle of having at least two witnesses before recording conviction in a murder case, and convicted many appellants on the basis of deposition by a sole witness. He said another bench of the HC had applied the two witness theory in Sardarpura incident and acquitted the accused, who were convicted by the trial court on the basis of single witness.

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