By Manali Joshi
On 27th February 2002 coach S6 of the Sabarmati Express was incinerated near the Godhra station, led to the death of 59 people, most of them being karsevaks, who were returning from Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, where they had attended Purnahuti Maha Yagna organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The incident triggered communal riots across the state in which around 1,200 people, were killed.
Verdict of the Trial court
The Trial court presided over by P.R Patel, who was then additional session’s judge in 2011, held the case to be “rarest of rare”. The Trial court held that the cause of the fire was not due to short circuit or accidental in nature because of leakage of kerosene from the stove of any passenger, but was definitely due to a huge quantity of petroleum being poured into the coaches of the train which was then ignited, leading to the train being set ablaze. The court held that the target of the mob was not the passengers but karsevaks specifically. The Supreme Court had appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT), which on March 1st, 2011, convicted 31 people and acquitted 63 others in the case. The lower court had gone by the conclusion of the SIT awarding 11 people with a death sentence and 20 were sent for life imprisonment. The lower court had accepted the prosecution’s contention that there was a conspiracy behind the incident.
Verdict of the High court
The Gujarat high court on October 10, 2017, commuted the death sentence of 11 convicts to rigorous life imprisonment while upholding the life sentence of the other 20. All 31 were convicted under IPC sections related to murder, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy. The division bench of Justices Anant S. Dave and G.R. Udhwani also ordered the state and the railways to pay compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the kin of those killed in the Godhra incident, the high court observed that “The state has failed to maintain law and order, so has the railways. Those injured in the incident should be given compensation as per the disabilities they suffered.” the court said. The division bench also said that it regrets the delay in the pronouncement of the judgement, as hearing of appeals had concluded much earlier.
The High Court relied on the testimonies of injured witnesses, passengers, railway employees, Railway Protection Force personnel, two policemen from Godhra, the Gujarat railway police, experts from forensic laboratories and also the confessional statements.The court rejected the appeals filed by the SIT against the acquittal of 63 people, and also its appeals seeking enhancement of sentences. Those acquitted included prime accused Maulana Umarji, the then President of the Godhra municipality Mohammad Hussain Kalota, Mohammad Ansari and Nanumiya Chaudhary of Gangapur in Uttar Pradesh. The court also rejected the appeals against conviction.
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