Court acquits 1993 Mumbai riots case accused, says he may be ‘innocent bystander’

A special court here has acquitted a man, now 46 years old, who was chargesheeted in connection with the 1993 communal riots in the city, giving him the benefit of the doubt and noting that he may be an “innocent bystander” and may not be part of the mob.

The accused, Shivpujan Rajbhar, who had been absconding, was traced and produced before the court on March 28, 2023.

Rajbhar, along with dozen others, had been chargesheeted by the police under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for attempt to murder and unlawful assembly.

Rajbhar was cleared of all the charges by additional sessions judge AA Kulkarni on May 4.

A detailed order was made available on Wednesday. Most of the other accused in the case have already been acquitted.

As per the prosecution, Rajbhar was part of a mob of around 300 to 400 people engaged in the hurling of stones, and glass bottles at each other during the communal riots 30 years ago.

The police had said the mob was uncontrolled and aggressive and didn’t heed the warning of a police constable at the spot.

The mob was throwing burning balls and tube lights. Police resorted to lathicharge to control the situation and eventually fired in the air, according to the prosecution.

The court said the prosecution relied on the evidence of three witnesses- two policemen and a panch.

The judge noted that except for the evidence tendered by the trio, there is nothing on record to “indicate the complicity of the accused in the crime” and also there is no independent witness to identify the accused.

It’s true that the incident took place in 1993, and after such a long delay, the witnesses cannot be found to identify the accused, the court said.

“It is true that the mob consisted of 300 to 400 people and it is difficult to ascertain who actively participated in vandalizing the property. No specific act is attributed to the accused,’ the judge noted.

“Though for the sake of argument, it is assumed that the present accused (Rajbhar) was present at the spot, it may be possible that he may be an innocent bystander. There is nothing on record to suggest that the accused actively participated in the unlawful assembly,” the judge observed.

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The court mentioned that the accused was apprehended from the spot and there was no identification parade.

The prosecution has failed to prove charges against the accused. Eventually, the benefit of the doubt goes in favour of the accused, the court said, while acquitting him.

Mumbai witnessed communal riots in December 1992-January 1993 in the aftermath of the demolition of the disputed Babri structure in Ayodhya. The riots were followed by 1993 serial bomb blasts.

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