Ahmedabad: A total of 31 people were on Tuesday convicted and 63 others, including the main accused Maulvi Umarji, were acquitted by a special court in the 2002 Godhra train burning incident that left 59 people dead and triggered violence in Gujarat that had claimed the lives of over 1,200 people, mainly Muslims.
The sentencing would be pronounced on 25 February after arguments on the quantum of punishment by the special court that accepted the theory of conspiracy behind the burning of the coach of Sabarmati Express carrying kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya.
The court acquitted prime accused Maulana Umarji while other prominent accused Haji Billa and Rajjak Kurkur were convicted.
“Special court judge P.R. Patel has convicted 31 accused while acquitting 63 others,” public prosecutor J.M. Panchal said after the verdict inside the Sabarmati jail.
“On 25 February, there will be a hearing on the point of sentence, and after that quantum of punishment will be pronounced,” Panchal said.
“The conspiracy theory has been accepted by the court,” he said.
Scientific evidence, statement of witnesses, circumstantial and documentary evidence placed on record formed the basis of the judgement.
The trial conducted inside the Sabarmati central jail in Ahmedabad began in June 2009 with the framing of charges against 94 accused in the carnage, that had triggered widespread communal riots in Gujarat.
The accused have been charged with criminal conspiracy and murder in burning of the S-6 coach of the train on 27 February 2002 near Godhra, about 125 km from the Gujarat capital in which 59 people were killed.
“Petrol was brought and the train was made to stop. Electricity was then cut and there was pouring of huge quantity of petrol and thereafter it was set afire so far as S-6 coach is concerned,” Panchal said replying to a query on prosecution’s theory of conspiracy.
Asked whether he would demand death penalty for those convicted in the case, he said, “What will be the stand of prosecution I cannot disclose at this stage but on 25 February, I will be making my humble submissions before the honourable court as discharge of my official duty.”
On whether the prosecution was satisfied by the verdict, Panchal said, “There is no question of any satisfaction. One has to respect the judicial verdict. There cannot be a debate on the judicial verdict.”
“Maulana (Umarje) has been acquitted because the judge found that he is not guilty. The grounds on which he has been acquitted can be said only after reading full text of the judgement,” Panchal said on the release of the prime conspirator.
As many as 253 witnesses were examined during the trial and over 1,500 documentary evidences were presented before the court by the Gujarat police.
There were a total of 134 accused in the case, out of which 14 were released due to lack of evidence, five were juvenile, five died during proceedings of over nine years, 16 are absconding, and trial was conducted against 94 accused.
Of the 94, against whom the trial was conducted 80 are in jail and 14 are out on bail.
Two different panels appointed to inquire into the 2002 case had given different views on the Godhra train burning incident.
The Nanavati Commission, appointed by the Gujarat government to probe the carnage, had in the first part of the report concluded that the fire in the S-6 coach was not an accident, but it was caused by throwing petrol inside it.
“The burning of the coach S-6 was a pre-planned act. In other words there was a conspiracy to burn the coach of the train coming from Ayodhya and to cause harm to the karsevaks travelling in it,” the report submitted to the government in September 2008 had said.
The one-man U.C. Banerjee Commission appointed by the railway ministry under Lalu Prasad Yadav had said that fire was “accidental”.