Above: Gujarat High Court
While upholding the convictions handed out by the lower court, the Gujarat high Court on Monday (October 9) commuted to life the death sentences that were handed out to 11 of the convicts.
Of those finally charged with conspiracy and the setting of fire to the coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002 at the Godhra station in which 59 kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya were burnt to death, 11 were sent to death row, 20 were sentenced to life, while 63 were acquitted by the special court following an SIT investigation.
Among those acquitted was Maulvi Umarji, the alleged mastermind behind a “conspiracy”.
The convictions were followed by several petitions and appeals in the high court challenging the verdict.
The burning of the kar sevaks sparked a huge riot in the Godhra region of Gujarat in which rumours spread like wildfire and around 1,000 were killed, most of them Muslims.
Justice AR Dave of the high court observed: “We have gone through the entire evidence… We have basically relied on passengers, injured victims, railway employees, forensic evidence, statements of witnesses… We have also considered the question of compensation which was not considered by the trial court,” reports say.
The compensation, as decided by the high court is Rs 10 lakh to the kin of each kar sevak killed. The court also observed that the state government had failed to maintain law and order post the burning. While about 50 people were arrested following the burning of the train coach, the government had set up the Nanavati-Shah commission to probe the incident.
Another inquiry commission was set up by the UPA administration, headed by former Justice UC Banerjee. But that commission failed to produce any result, with Justice Banerjee finally reporting, in March 2006, that it was an “accident”. The inquiry was deemed so superficial that the Supreme Court quashed its findings as “unconstitutional” and “invalid”.
Following this, the apex court itself constituted the Special Investigation Team. Meanwhile, the Nanavati-Shah Commission report, in September 2008, confirmed the “conspiracy” angle and the special court took over at Ahmedabad Central jail on June 1, 2009.
—India Legal Bureau