In what may be the first such instance in the country, a special court on Friday awarded the death penalty to as many as 38 convicts, and sentenced 11 others to life imprisonment until death, in a case related to the 2008 Ahmedabad serial blasts in which 56 persons were killed and over 200 left injured.
The court had earlier acquitted 28 accused on February 8, when it delivered the verdict, nearly 14 years after the blasts in the city. On Friday, the special court judge A. R. Patel pronounced the quantum of sentence.
The prosecution sought capital punishment for all 49 convicts while defence lawyers urged the court to show leniency towards the convicts considering their social and economic background.
In the over 7,000-page judgement, the trial court termed the case as “rarest of rare” and ordered that 38 convicts be hanged till death, while 11 others were awarded life imprisonment till death. The court also awarded compensation of ₹1 lakh for the kin of those who died in the blasts; ₹50,000 to those who were seriously injured; and ₹25,000 to those who received minor injuries.
According to Public Prosecutor Amit Patel, the 38 persons were convicted under the Indian Penal Code’s (IPC) Sections 302 (murder) and 120B (criminal conspiracy), and the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Eleven others were held guilty for criminal conspiracy, and under various sections of the UAPA.
“They have been held guilty of murder, attempt to murder, criminal conspiracy, attempting to wage war against the nation, sedition, and for participating in terror activities for which the maximum punishment prescribed is death,” Mr. Patel said.
“This is the highest number of convicts awarded death sentence in a criminal case. Earlier, the highest number of 26 convicts were [awarded death penalty] in an assassination case,” Mr. Patel told mediapersons. The assassination is a reference to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s death at the hands of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) operatives in Tamil Nadu.
During the pronouncement of the sentence on Friday, all the convicts were present for the hearing via video conference from eight different jails — the Sabarmati Central Jail in Ahmedabad, Tihar Jail in Delhi, and jails in Bhopal, Gaya, Bengaluru, Kerala and Mumbai.
Those who were awarded death sentences included key accused Safdar Nagori, Qayumuddin Kapadiya, Zahid Shaikh, Qumaruddin Nagori and Shamsuddin Sheikh.
The accused were members of the Indian Mujahideen, an outfit floated by the operatives of the banned militant organisation, the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). They were trained to carry out blasts in Ahmedabad as “retribution” for the 2002 riots in Gujarat.
After the blasts, Ahmedabad Police cracked the case within weeks, arresting the accused from Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and other States. The police busted the nationwide terror network created by the Indian Mujahideen (IM) and SIMI operatives in the country.
The court had concluded the trial against 77 accused in September 2021. Out of 78 accused on trial, one turned approver. The court has pardoned him. The trial began against 77 persons linked to the IM, a banned terror outfit, while four more accused were arrested later and are being tried separately.
The prosecution examined 1,163 witnesses in the case before nine different judges in protracted legal proceedings. The prosecution marked 26 witnesses as star witnesses. Their identity was concealed for their safety.
The trial began after merging as many as 35 first information reports (FIR) into one.
Public hospitals were targeted in the terror blasts for the first time. In Ahmedabad’s Civil Hospital, the blast occurred in the trauma centre, killing 37 persons.