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Coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express, in which 59 people, mostly ‘kar sevaks’ returning from Ayodhya were travelling, was burnt on 27 February 2002 at the Godhra station, triggering riots in the state. Photo: AP (AP)
Coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express, in which 59 people, mostly ‘kar sevaks’ returning from Ayodhya were travelling, was burnt on 27 February 2002 at the Godhra station, triggering riots in the state. Photo: AP (AP)

Godhra case: Gujarat HC commutes death sentence to life term for 11 convicts

The Gujarat high court today sharply criticized the state government and the Indian Railways for miserably failing to maintain law and order in the 2002 incident

Gujarat: The Gujarat high court on Monday commuted the death penalty awarded by a lower court to 11 convicts in the 2002 Godhra train burning case into life imprisonment.

The high court upheld the conviction of 20 other people who were sentenced to life imprisonment by a special court which had in 2011 convicted the 31 people of murder and conspiracy. The special court had acquitted 63 others due to lack of evidence, which notably included prime accused Maulana Umarji.

The high court on Monday refused to change the lower court’s verdict. The trial at the special court began in June 2009 with the framing of charges against 94 accused of whom 63 were acquitted. The court had also ruled that a criminal conspiracy had led to the train fire incident.

All 31 convicts would now spend their lives in prison for attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy in setting ablaze a coach of the Sabarmati Express in 2002, the high court said in its order on Monday.

The train was returning with passengers from the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya that had been demolished in 1992. As many as 59 pilgrims, returning from Ayodhya were charred to death when a mob consisting of people from the Muslim community attacked the train and torched the S6 coach near Godhra railway station in February 2002. The incident triggered communal riots across Gujarat in which more than 1,000 people were killed.

Even after the special court delivered its verdict in February 2011, some of the accused were nabbed and put on trial.

In a setback to the government, the high court today sharply criticized the state government and the Indian Railways for miserably failing to maintain law and order in the 2002 incident. The high court also directed the government and the railways to pay Rs10 lakh each to the families of those killed in the Godhra train burning incident.

The Gujarat high court also dismissed an appeal by the Gujarat government against the 63 people who were acquitted.

A number of appeals in front of a division bench in the high court had challenged the convictions and acquittals that were handed out in the case by the trial court. A Supreme Court-monitored special investigation team (SIT) had sought capital punishment for all those who were convicted in the high court. SIT lawyers told the court that they would study the judgment before deciding whether to challenge it in the Supreme Court.

The Nanavati Commission, appointed by the Gujarat government to probe the train burning, had in its report concluded that the fire was not an accident, but a conspiracy and that the coach was set ablaze by a mob.

Earlier this week, the Gujarat high court rejected a petition by former lawmaker Ehsan Jafri’s widow challenging the clean chit given by SIT in 2012 to then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and other top politicians and bureaucrats for the 2002 riots.

Petitioner Zakia Jafri’s husband, former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri was among 69 people killed in the Gulbarg housing society in Ahmedabad during the rioting.

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