Issuing severe strictures against the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which investigated the murder of the former Gujarat Minister of State for Home, Haren Pandya, a division bench of the Gujarat High Court acquitted all the 12 accused of murder charges while holding them guilty of criminal conspiracy and attempt to murder Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Jagdish Tiwari.

The CBI had clubbed the two cases — murder of Pandya on March 26, 2003, and the murderous attack on Mr. Tiwari in Bapunagar locality in Ahmedabad on March 11, 2003 — and filed a common charge sheet. It considered the two as part of a “larger conspiracy” to cause terror among a section of the people to avenge the 2002 communal riots in the State that inflicted “severe sufferings” on Muslims.

The division bench comprising justices D. H. Waghela, and J. C. Upadhyaya, while partially allowing the appeal by the accused, disagreed with the judgement of the trial court delivered in June 2007. The trial court had sentenced nine of the 12 accused to life imprisonment, ruling that the principal accused, Mohamed Asgar Ali, a notorious criminal from Hyderabad who its was claimed had pulled the trigger on Pandya, would “remain in prison till he is alive.” It awarded seven years imprisonment to two others and five years to the remaining one.

The division bench noted that the prosecution failed to prove the commission of murder by the accused beyond reasonable doubts and dropped the murder charges under section 302 against all of them. It reduced the sentence to seven years rigorous imprisonment in the case of Asgar Ali. For the remaining 11, the sentences were reduced to “the period they have already spent in jails” and they could be released unless they failed to pay up the fines imposed by the trial court. All the 12 accused have been charged under sections 307, 120-B and relevant sections of the now repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).

“What clearly stands out from the records of the present case is that investigation in the case of the murder of Shri Pandya has throughout been botched up and blinkered and it left a lot to be desired,” the division bench said about the CBI investigation. “The investigating officers ought to be held accountable for their ineptitude resulting in injustice, harassment of many persons and enormous waste of public resources and time of the courts.”