A sessions court in Mumbai on Tuesday acquitted two persons for their role in the Best Bakery incident that took place during the 2002 Gujarat riots in which 14 persons died, including women and children. The duo Harshad Solanki and Mafat Gohil were absconding along with two other accused Jayantibhai Gohil and his son Ramesh Gohil and hence not available for a retrial ordered by the apex court in 2004.
The absconding accused other than Jayathibhai were arrested by the NIA in connection with the Ajmer bomb blast and later transferred his custody in this case. The father and son died during custody and only Solanki and Mafat Gohil remained to face retrial.
All 21 Accused Acquitted
The case had been remanded by the order of the apex court for a retrial in Maharashtra after the trial in a Gujarat sessions court had ended in the acquittal of all 21 accused in 2003, mostly due to hostile witnesses and lack of sufficient evidence. The Gujarat High Court too had upheld the decision of the trial court.
Case transferred out of Gujarat
One of the victims and an NGO had moved to the apex court in an appeal against the HC decision. The Supreme Court while directing a retrial and permitting further investigation in 2004, had observed in its order that the investigation was tainted and that the prosecution had examined relatives of the accused in support of its case.
After the retrial against 17 persons, in 2006, the Mumbai sessions court had convicted nine persons and acquitted eight.
What is Best Bakery Case?
The incident had taken place on Mar 1, 2002 between 8 and 9.30 pm and went on till morning of the next day. It happened during the Gujarat riots that broke out in the aftermath of the Godhra train burning in which two bogies of the Sabarmati Express in which karsevaks were travelling, were set on fire by a mob.
In the fateful incident at Best Bakery, a mob of 1,000 to 1,200 persons had marched towards the establishment. Seeing the mob, the members of the Habibulla Sheikh family that ran the establishment, ran to the building's first floor and locked the door. The mob armed with lethal weapons like swords and torches attacked the bakery with soda bottles and bottles filled with kerosene set on fire while the victims were trapped in the Bakery building.
A godown containing timber in the basement of the building was set on fire too. Some men were allowed by the mob to come out, but then assaulted with swords and such weapons, being tied to poles. Women were taken behind the bushes with the intent of rape. Only four injured persons survived to narrate the incident. Among those who died, were three helps of the family - all of the same religion as the mobsters.