In a major setback to Gujarat government, Supreme Court today acquitted all six convicts, including three condemned prisoners, in the 2002 Akshardham temple attack case, saying "the story of the prosecution crumbles down at every juncture".
The apex court noted the "perversity in conducting this case at various stages, right from the investigation level to the granting of sanction by the state government to prosecute the accused persons under Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), the conviction and awarding of sentence to the accused persons by the Special Court (POTA) and confirmation of the same by the High Court".
"We, being the apex court, cannot afford to sit with folded hands when such gross violation of fundamental rights and basic human rights of the citizens of this country is presented before us," a bench comprising Justices AK Patnaik and V Gopala Gowda said.
"Before parting with the judgement, we intend to express our anguish at the incompetence with which the (probe) agencies conducted the investigation into the case of such a grievous nature, involving the integrity and security of the nation.
"Instead of booking the real culprits responsible for taking so many precious lives, the police caught innocent people and got grievous charges imposed against them which resulted in their conviction and subsequent sentencing," the bench said.
The "circumstance, looming large in the background inevitably leads to the conclusion that the prosecution story was conceived and constructed after a good deal of deliberation and delay in a shady setting, highly redolent of doubt and suspicion," It added.
Besides the three who were facing the gallows, the apex court also quashed the life sentence of two others and the 10- year jail term of another person for the September 24, 2002, terrorist attack on the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar.
The bench said that "the appellants who are in custody shall be set at liberty forthwith, if they are not required in any other criminal case" and added that it was also setting aside the conviction of another accused, who did not file an appeal and has already undergone the sentence served on him.
Adam Ajmeri, Shan Miya alias Chand Khan and Mufti Abdul Qyyum Mansuri were awarded the death sentence in July, 2006, by the special court set up to try the case under POTA.
While a local youth from Dariapur in the city, Mohammed Salim Shaikh, was sentenced to life imprisonment,