Bipin Patel, a sitting BJP corporator, is among the 36 acquitted in the 2002 Gulberg Society carnage on Thursday, even as a designated court in Ahmedabad convicted 11 for the murder 69 people, including former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri, during post-Godhra rioting. Of the 24 convicted, 13 are guilty of lesser offences.
VHP leader Atul Vaidya is among those convicted.
Patel was the corporator on Feb 28, 2002 when a Hindu mob of rioters scaled the walls of the building cluster housing mainly Muslim families and slaughtered residents, a day after 59 passengers, most of them Hindu pilgrims, perished in a fire which broke out on the Sabarmati Express near Godhra train station. A Reuters report said at least five children are missing after the Gulberg Society massacre.
Patel had won the election for fourth consecutive term last year.
The deadly train fire had sparked one of the country's worst communal backlash in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state. The SIT trial concluded the trial on September 22, 2015.
(Sayeed Khan Pathan, a Muslim, poses inside his house which was burnt and damaged in the Gujarat 2002 riots at the Gulbarg Society, a Muslim-dominated housing, in Ahmedabad, February 28, 2014. Reuters)
There are 66 accused named by the SIT in the case, of which nine are behind bars for 14 years, while others are out on bail. The Gulberg Society is one of the nine cases of the 2002 Gujarat riots probed by the Supreme Court appointed SIT.
According to official estimates, the riots killed at least 1,000 people. But rights groups and social activists say the number is as high as 2500.
(Relatives pay homage to those killed at Gulbarg Society following the February 2002 Godhra train incident, which sparked communal riots that year, on the ninth anniversary of the incident in Ahmedabad on February 28, 2011. SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images)
CONSPIRACY CHARGE DROPPED
Special Court Judge PB Desai also dropped the conspiracy charge (120 B) against all the accused. The court said there is no evidence of criminal conspiracy in the case. The quantum of sentence for those convicted in the case will be delivered on June 6.
Congress corporator Meghsinh Chaudhari and KG Erda, then police inspector of the area under which the Gulberg Society was located, are among those acquitted.
During the trial, riots victim's lawyer had argued that the massacre was a pre-planned criminal conspiracy hatched by the accused to kill minority community members of the Gulberg Society.
The defence had refuted the conspiracy theory of prosecution and claimed that the mob resorted to violence only after slain Congress MP Eshan Jafri fired several rounds at them.
Meanwhile, Zakia Jafri, the 77-year-old widow of Ehsaan Jafri, said she will appeal the verdict.
"I am very unhappy with the judgement. I will carry on the fight, will do whatever it takes," she was quoted as saying.
Zakia was witness to the gruesome murder of Ehsan who allegedly tried to make several calls to the police before being dragged out of his ancestral home and murdered.
(Inputs from PTI)