Ahmedabad, April 17: The Gujarat government has given riot investigators clearance to seek death for Maya Kodnani, a former minister jailed for one of the worst massacres of the 2002 violence, but critics questioned the timing of the go-ahead order.
The nod came a day after Zakia Jafri, widow of a riot victim, challenged the Supreme Court-appointed special investigation team’s closure report that gave chief minister Narendra Modi a “clean chit” in the Gulbarg Society case, another riot-related pogrom.
Observers said the government’s order, seven months after the trial court’s conviction of Kodnani, was an attempt to turn the focus away from Zakia’s “protest petition”.
Zakia, whose husband and former Congress MP Ehsaan Jafri was burnt alive along with 68 others, has accused the chief minister of complicity in the riots and sought re-investigation into the Gulbarg case.
Normally, the time limit for challenging a lower court’s order is three months.
Sources revealed that the sanction to file an appeal in the Naroda Patia massacre case to demand capital punishment for Kodnani and nine others had been given two months ago, but it was only yesterday that public prosecutors got the order.
Assistant prosecutor Gaurang Vyas said the state’s legal department had on February 15 granted the SIT’s request to challenge the trial court’s order in the high court. “(But) we got the order only yesterday,” Vyas said.
“Yesterday, we got the order to form a panel to file an appeal in Gujarat High Court in the 2002 Naroda Patia massacre case and seek capital punishment for 10 convicts, including Kodnani and Bajrang Dal leader Babu Bajrangi.”
The panel, which includes Vyas, will file the appeal next week.
The SIT had sought the state government’s nod immediately after special judge Jyotsna Yagnik had delivered her verdicts on August 31 last year, convicting Kodnani, Bajrangi and a host of other accused.
“It is clearly a political move,” one of Modi’s critics said, questioning the timing of the move to form the panel of lawyers to file the appeal.
“All these years they have maintained that Maya Kodnani is innocent, but now they want the death penalty for her,” said rights activist Fr Cedric Prakash. “We are against death sentence.”
Kodnani, a former women and child development minister, was once seen as a close aide of Modi. A gynaecologist by profession, she was the first high-profile BJP MLA to be convicted in a post-Godhra riot case.
The special court had sentenced Kodnani to 28 years in jail for the massacre of 97 Muslims in Naroda Patia. Bajrangi was sent to jail for the rest of his life.
Apart from seeking death sentence for the 10 convicts, the appeal will press for enhancement of 24-year jail terms to 30 years for 22 convicts, Vyas said.