Friday, Oct 17, 2003
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By Our Special Correspondent
The `Lal Akhada' case, as it came to be known, became controversial as more than half of the 23 witnesses turned hostile. These included a constable, Dillipsinh Parbatsinh, who, in his statement to police earlier, had said that he had seen Nissar Bapu leaving the scene of crime in a car. However, in court, he denied making such a statement. He was suspended from the police force after he turned hostile.
Pankaj Chauhan, 22, originally from Rajasthan, was stabbed to death near Lal Akhada in the minority-dominated Vadi locality during the communal riots in Gujarat on March 22 last.
Cases were filed against six, including Nissar Bapu, now an independent member of the Vadodara Municipal Corporation, his son Abid Hussain, and four others. While four of the accused were arrested the same day of the crime, Nissar Bapu surrendered before the police after about six months.
But the Vadodara special fast track court judge, C.K. Solanki, did not find adequate evidence against Nissar Bapu and another accused, Maru Hussain Saiyed. The two were acquitted of the murder charges, while Nissar Bapu's son, Abid, his brother-in-law, Akram Ahmed, and two others, Arif Sheikh and Lalu Mohammad Dudhwala, were sentenced to life imprisonment under Sections 302, 120 (B), 114 and 34 of the IPC.
The judge left the court after pronouncing only an oral judgement as the family members of Nissar Bapu, most of them women, protested against the sentencing of ``four innocents'' to life imprisonment. They said that while all the 21 accused in the Best Bakery case were acquitted under similar circumstances, four "innocents'' were being convicted in the Lal Akhada case just because they belonged to the minority community.
Tension is building up over the case and though originally the court had decided to pronounce the sentences on October 8, it had to be twice postponed.
The public prosecutor in the case, Bhumika Trivedi, said the Government would consider filing an appeal in the higher court against the acquittal of Nissar Bapu.
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