After almost 18 years of the trial in the infamous Best Bakery case relating to the 2002 Gujarat Riots which claimed the life of 14 people, the Mumbai Session Court acquitted Harshad Alias Munno Ravjibhai Solanki and Mafat Alias Mahesh Manilal Gohil, the two accused who were initially absconding during the re-trial in Mumbai but then were tried under Section 299 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Judge M. G. Deshpande in its operative part of the order directed that "Accused No. 3 Harshad Alias Munno Ravjibhai Solanki and Accused No. 4 Mafat Alias Mahesh Manilal Gohil are undertrial prisoners, hence they be released forthwith if not required in the case/cases from where they have been transferred in this crime and also if not required in any other case/cases."

Advocate Ranjeet Nair appeared for the acquitted Accused No.3 while Advocate Prakash J. Salsingikar appeared for the acquitted Accused No. 4 and SPP Manjula Rao appeared for the prosecution.

The Court further directed that "Accused No. 3 Harshad Alias Munno Ravjibhai Solanki and Accused No. 4 Mafat Alias Mahesh Manilal Gohil shall comply the provision under Section 437-A of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 by everyone of them furnishing PR Bond of Rs. 15,000/-(Rupees Fifteen Thousand only) and surety bond of like amount alongwith their detail addresses, copies of Identity Cards, Mobile numbers including the numbers of their parents, names of the persons to be contacted in future if they are untraceable, to appear before the Hon'ble Higher Court."

The Session Court also abated the trial against 2 other accused namely Jayantibhai Jamsing Gohil and Ramesh Alias Rinku Jayantibhai Gohil who died during the trial. On March 1, 2002, members of the family who were running the Best Bakery after completing their evening prayers had their food and, at that time, a mob of about 1000 to 1200 people marched towards the Best Bakery from all directions. According to the prosecution and the witnesses, this mob was carrying torches (mashals) and swords, iron rods, sticks and other lethal weapons and the persons from this mob were raising slogans that the properties of Muslims should be torched and they should be killed and burnt.

It was further noted that after the Fire Brigade came to the scene, they extinguished the fire and went to the first floor and found the dead bodies of women and children on the first floor. They found two bodies on the ground floor in the bushes and in all 14 people died in the said incident.

During the commencement of the Trial in the Sessions Court, Mumbai, the aforenamed four accused did not surrender and the Trial Court separated the trial in respect of accused Nos. 6 to 9. The evidence against these 4 accused, however, was recorded after an order was passed under section 299 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

After the conclusion of the trial in the Gujarat Trial Court and the Gujarat High Court confirmed the order of acquittal passed by the Trial Court, an appeal was filed in the Apex Court by one of the victims Zahirabibi Habibulla Shaikh along with one NGO - Citizens for Justice and Peace of which Teesta Setalvad is a member and it was alleged that the witness Zahira had turned hostile because she was pressurized by certain persons in Gujarat and, therefore, it was urged that the judgment and order passed by the Trial Court at Gujarat as well as the Gujarat High Court should be set aside.

The Apex Court accepted the plea of the witness Zahira and set aside the judgment and order passed by the Trial Court and the Gujarat High Court and remanded the matter after transferring it from the State of Gujarat to the State of Maharashtra and ordered re-trial and reinvestigation by the police. The Apex Court observed that the investigation made by the Investigating Officer was tainted and several reasons were given by the Apex Court.

Cause Title: The State of Gujarat v. Rajubhai Dhamirbhai Baria & Ors. [SESSIONS CASE NO. 315 OF 2004]

Click here to read/download Operative Order