The Gujarat high court on Monday gave huge relief to 11 convicts and commuted their death sentence to life imprisonment in connection with the Godhra train burning case in which 59 passengers, mostly karsevaks returning from Ayodhya, were killed on February 27, 2002.
The court observed that the state government and railways had failed to maintain law and order, which resulted in the 59 deaths. It ordered the state and the railways to pay Rs 10 lakh to the nearest kin of the victims of the carnage within six weeks. The court junked appeals challenging the acquittal of 63, including “mastermind” Maulana Hussain Umarji. He died in 2011 after being acquitted by the trial court.
The division bench of Justice A S Dave and Justice G R Udhwani also asked the state government to decide on the compensation amount to be paid to those injured.
In 2011, a special court awarded maximum punishment to 11 people, and punished 20 others with life imprisonment. The trial court acquitted 63 persons for want of evidence.
Accepting the charges of the prosecution of criminal conspiracy and murder, the high court upheld conviction for all 31 convicts. However, it rejected the state government’s demand, as well as that of the relatives of the victims, to increase punishment for the 20 convicts.
The HC turned down the government’s demand to confirm death sentence awarded by the trial court. It also rejected the petition filed by relatives of the victims demanding capital punishment for the convicts.
By upholding the special court’s conclusions on criminal conspiracy and other charges of murder, arson, damaging public property, etc, the HC also concluded that the attack on S6 coach of Sabarmati Express took place from inside the compartment as the investigators and FSL reports suggested that inflammable liquid was poured by the convicts after getting inside the coach.
A K Malhotra, who is in charge of the Supreme Court-appointed SIT which probed the case later, said that it would decide on approaching the SC after going through the order. He also said that the SIT is required to obtain the state government’s nod.
Special prosecutor J M Panchal said, “We are waiting for the copy of the HC order and the government will take a decision shortly.” Defence lawyer I H Saiyad said: “There’s scope for an appeal before the SC because our case is that the police hatched a conspiracy to establish a criminal conspiracy in this case”.