Ahmedabad: A special court on Friday sentenced to death 38 members of terror outfit Indian Mujahideen (IM) in the 2008 Ahmedabad serial blasts, which claimed 56 lives and left over 200 injured.
The court also sentenced 11 other convicts to life imprisonment.
This is for the first time that so many convicts have been handed down death sentence by any court at one go. In January 1998, a TADA court in Tamil Nadu sentenced to death all 26 convicts in the case of assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
The pronouncement of the quantum of punishment by judge A R Patel came 14 years after the blasts.
The court had convicted 49 persons and acquitted 28 others in the case on February 8.
As many as 21 explosions had ripped through the city on July 26, 2008 within a span of 70 minutes.
In the over 7,000-page judgement, the court termed the case as "rarest of rare" and ordered that 38 convicts in the case be hanged till death, while 11 others were given life imprisonment till death, public prosecutor Amit Patel told reporters here.
While 38 were convicted under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections 302 (murder) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) and provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 11 others were held guilty for criminal conspiracy and under various sections of the UAPA, he said.
The court imposed a fine of Rs 2.85 lakh on 48 convicts and of Rs 2.88 lakh on another one. It also awarded compensation of Rs one lakh to the kin of those who died in the blasts, Rs 50,000 to those who were seriously injured and Rs 25,000 to those who received minor injuries.
Those sentenced to death include key conspirators Safdar Nagori and Qumaruddin Nagori (from Madhya Pradesh) and Qayumuddin Kapadiya, Zahid Shaikh and Shamsudding Sheikh (from Gujarat).
Both Safdar Nagori and Zahid Shaikh were accused of collecting funds for acquiring explosives and for other illegal activities of banned outfit Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), while Kapadiya had acquired mobile SIM cards using fake documents and stayed in hotels using fake identity.
The trial began in December 2009 against 78 persons linked to the banned terror outfit. One of them turned approver. The court concluded the trial against 77 accused in September last year.
Four more accused were arrested later, but their trial has not commenced yet, a government lawyer said.
Bombs had exploded at various spots in Ahmedabad, including the state government-run civil hospital, Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation-run LG Hospital, on buses, parked bicycles, in cars and other places, killing 56 persons. As many as 29 live bombs were also found in Surat in the next couple of days, though none of them exploded.
The trial was conducted after the court merged 20 FIRs of Ahmedabad and 15 FIRs of Surat.
The state government had transferred the investigation to the Ahmedabad crime branch, under the supervision of the then JCP Ashish Bhatia, who is now serving as the Gujarat DGP.
Nine judges presided over the case, starting with Bela Trivedi, in whose court charges were framed against the accused on February 15, 2010. Justice Trivedi is now the judge of the Supreme Court.
Special judge A R Patel, who handed over the judgement, started hearing the case from June 14, 2017.
Police had claimed that members of IM, a radicalized faction of SIMI, were behind the blasts. The investigators had claimed that IM planned the blasts as a revenge for the 2002 post-Godhra riots in Gujarat in which over a thousand persons, most of them from the Muslim community, died.
Survivors and kin of those killed in the blasts welcomed the court verdict.
College student Yash Vyas was nine years old when he suffered severe burn injuries after a bomb went off at the trauma ward of the civil hospital.
"My mother and I have been waiting for this day for the last 13 years. I am happy that the court gave death penalty to 38 persons responsible for killing innocent people, including my father and brother," he said.
"The court should have given capital punishment to all the convicts," said Yash, now a 22-year-old second year science degree student.