Godhra Carnage A Conspiracy
59 Rambhaktas burnt alive in train compartment
Calculated subterfuge and brazen propaganda by bogus activists like Teesta Setalvad and Arundhati Roy, aimed at absolving the killers of the kar sevaks, can serve to titillate the imagination of those who subscribe to perverted notions of secularism, but they cannot convert fiction into fact. After the judgement, not only does Justice UC Banerjee’s report, commissioned and paid for by then Minister for Railways Lalu Prasad Yadav to influence Muslim voters in Bihar, claiming that the fire was "accidental", lie in tatters, but the toxic canard and calumny industry, much of it located in the backrooms of media houses and television studios, stands exposed.
* Many criminals of heinous crime let-off lightly for want of evidence.
* Only 31 get conviction. Justice prevails after all!
IN a blow to those who called the ghastly Sabarmati Express carnage an "accident" and played communal politics in its name, a designated special court on February 21 convicted 31 accused for setting the train on fire and roasting alive 59 helpless kar sevaks. The judgement vindicated the Gujarat Government’s stand that the incident was pre-planned.
The Sabarmati Express returning from Ayodhya had been set on fire at Godhra station on February 27, 2002, triggering widespread violence, in which nearly 1,200 people were killed.
The facts of that terrible criminal deed that was committed on February 27, 2002, by a Muslim mob at Godhra are well known, but nonetheless merit mention. The mob, which had gathered a short distance from Godhra station, stopped Sabarmati Express and doused one of its coaches, S-6, in which kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya were travelling, with gallons of petrol and set it on fire. In the resultant blaze, 59 people, including men, women and children, died. Many of those who managed to flee the burning coach have been permanently scarred. It was clearly an act of pre-meditated mass murder which was sought to be given a cover of spontaneous anger over alleged misbehaviour with Muslim vendors at the station; forensic tests and a careful reconstruction of the sequence of events showed that a conspiracy had been hatched and carried out by those present in the mob on that day. The retaliatory violence that followed left 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus dead. That said, the verdict not only upholds the prosecution’s case that the attack on the Sabarmati Express coach carrying Hindu pilgrims was pre-meditated.
Pronouncing the long-awaited judgement nine years after the train inferno, Additional Sessions Judge PR Patel upheld the prosecution’s charge that the incident was part of a conspiracy - a point made in the report of the Nanavati-Mehta Commission in 2008. This validates the Narendra Modi Government’s contention though the acquittal of two key accused has come as an embarrassment to the prosecutors’ team.
All 31 convicts are guilty of attempts to murder (302 IPC) and hatching conspiracy (120B IPC), Public Prosecutor Jayant Panchal told the media on emerging from the packed court-room inside the high-security Sabarmati Central Jail.
However, the special court acquitted 63 other accused, including Maulana Umarji and Bilal Hussain Kalota, described by prosecution as main conspirators.
A total of 94 accused had gone on trial, which itself has a troubled history with the Supreme Court clamping a stay on it for some time.
Of the total 134 accused booked for the train-burning, 16 were declared absconders while 15 were released on bail for different reasons. Five accused died during trial while 13 were discharged for lack of evidence. The trial of five juvenile accused is yet to begin.
Commenting on the verdict The Pioneer editorial said, calculated subterfuge and brazen propaganda by bogus activists like Teesta Setalvad and Arundhati Roy, aimed at absolving the killers of the kar sevaks, can serve to titillate the imagination of those who subscribe to perverted notions of secularism, but they cannot convert fiction into fact. After the judgement, not only does Justice UC Banerjee’s report, commissioned and paid for by then Minister for Railways Lalu Prasad Yadav to influence Muslim voters in Bihar, claiming that the fire was "accidental", lie in tatters, but the toxic canard and calumny industry, much of it located in the backrooms of media houses and television studios, stands exposed.
The prosecution case is based mainly on the confessions of Jabir Bin Yameen Behera, recorded under provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) enacted by the NDA Government at the Centre in 2002 and later repealed by the UPA.
The prosecution also relied upon the statement of a vendor, Ajay Baria, who corroborated the fact that petrol had been stored to pour into the S-6 compartment of the ill-fated train.
Prabhatsinh Chauhan and Ranjit Jodha-employees of the petrol pump from where the conspirators purchased 120 litres on the night of February 26, 2002- were other important witnesses.
The five main accused who carried out the operation by cutting open the vestibule between the two coaches to pour petrol inside are Ayub Patalia, Irfan Kalandar, Mehboob Popa, Shaukat Patalia and Siddiqui Bohra. The prosecution has hinted that they may face death sentence.
The other convicted persons include Razak Kurkur, owner of Aman Guest house, where the conspiracy was hatched and 120 litres of petrol were stored the previous night. Salim Panwala, Farooque Bana, Salim Zarda and Salim Bana were also present there. While Panwala fled to Pakistan to avoid arrest, the rest have been convicted.
Though the first chargesheet was filed in May 2002, trial was delayed due to several legal hassles at several stages. The Supreme Court had stayed the trial on the Godhra train inferno and other riot cases in November 2003. Also, charges were first filed under POTA but dropped later following its repeal by the UPA Government in 2004.
The Supreme Court had constituted a special investigation team (SIT), headed by former CBI Director RK Raghavan, in May 2009 when it lifted the stay on the trial. The final trial began in June 2009 and concluded in September 2010 but the verdict could not be pronounced due to a Supreme Court stay, which was finally lifted on January 18, 2011. (FOC)
Vindicated, says BJP
THE BJP and Narendra Modi Government on February 22, hailed the Gujarat special court’s verdict in Godhra train burning case.
Saying the ruling vindicated their stand that the kar sevaks were burnt as part of a conspiracy, they also slammed the UPA I-appointed UC Banerjee Committee’s claim that the train fire was accidental.
Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Smt Sushma Swaraj said it had now been established that the carnage was "culmination of a conspiracy" which was hatched "in a room" by some people who bought petrol from different locations to set the train on fire.
"We are neither happy nor sad. The verdict just vindicates our position that there was a conspiracy. Others were let off for want of sufficient evidence ...It does not prove them innocent," Swaraj said here on February 22.
She insisted that the verdict proves the BJP’s contention that the Banerjee committee’s report, which had stated that the fire was caused from inside Sabarmati Express S-6 bogey, was an "eyewash and manipulated".
Welcoming the verdict, Gujarat Government spokesman and Health Minister Jay Narayan Vyas said the court ruling had upheld its viewpoint that the train burning was no accident. "The verdict proves that the campaign against the Gujarat Government was motivated and a well-hatched conspiracy," he said.
BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said the verdict was an "embarrassment" for the Centre. "The theory of the Government and some NGOs has been proved wrong, with the court saying there was a conspiracy.... One man (Banerjee) gave a clean chit but the court has not accepted it. The attempts to rubbish the fact of conspiracy have been defeated," Hussain added. (FOC)
TWISTS, TURNS AND FACTS
FEBRUARY 27, 2002: 59 ‘karsevaks’ die after S6 coach of Sabarmati Express is torched by a mob near Godhra railway station. FIR filed against 1,500 people
MARCH 3, 2002: Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) invoked against those arrested for Godhra train burning case
MARCH 6, 2002: Gujarat Government appoints a commission under the Commission of Inquiry Act to probe Godhra incident and post-Godhra riots
MARCH 9, 2002: Police include IPC Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) against all accused
MARCH 25, 2002: POTO suspended on all the accused due to pressure from the Central Government
MAY 27, 2002: First charge-sheet filed against 54 accused but they are not charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTO became an Act as it was cleared by Parliament)
SEPTEMBER 4, 2004: A committee headed by former Supreme Court judge UC Banerjee constituted, following a Union Cabinet decision to inquire into certain aspects of the incident under Railway Ministry when RJD leader Lalu Prasad was Minister
JANUARY 17, 2005: Banerjee submits preliminary report suggesting fire in S6 coach being an ‘accident’ and ruled out the possibility of fire having resulted out of any external attack
OCTOBER 13, 2006: Gujarat High Court rules formation of UC Banerjee committee as "illegal" and "unconstitutional" since Nanavati-Shah Commission was already conducting inquiry in all the riots related cases and said Banerjee probe results stand ‘invalid’
MARCH 26, 2008: SC constitutes Special Investigation Team to probe Godhra train burning incident and eight other post-Godhra riot cases
SEPTEMBER 18, 2008: Nanavati Commission submits its report on Godhra train burning incident, saying that it was a pre-planned conspiracy and S6 coach was torched by mob who had poured petrol inside it
FEBRUARY 12, 2009: HC upholds POTA Review Committee decision that the Act cannot be applied in this case
FEBRUARY 20, 2009: Kin of victim of Godhra train burning case move SC against decision of HC to drop POTA charges against the accused. Case is still pending
MAY 1, 2009: SC lifts stay on trial of Godhra and all other cases being probed by the SIT, after the team headed by former CBI director RK Raghavan makes steady progress in the Godhra-train burning and eight other major riot cases in the State
JUNE 1, 2009: Trial of the Godhra train carnage commences inside the Sabarmati Central jail in Ahmedabad
MAY 6, 2010: SC restrains trial courts to pronounce judgement in nine sensitive riot cases of Gujarat including Godhra train incident
SEPTEMBER 28, 2010: Trial concludes, no pronouncement of judgement due to stay by the apex court
JANUARY 18 2011: SC lifts ban on pronouncement of verdict.