Ahmedabad: Eleven convicts in the Godhra train burning case were Tuesday handed down death sentence while 20 others were given life imprisonment by a special court in the 2002 incident that left 59 ‘karsevaks’ dead and triggered riots which claimed over 1200 lives in Gujarat.
Special judge P R Patel considering the case as “rarest of rare” pronounced death penalty for 11 out of the 31 convicted in the case while 20 others were sentenced to life imprisonment.
“The court looking into their active role in the conspiracy and setting afire the S6 coach of Sabarmati Express train near Godhra, gave death penalty to 11 people,” public prosecutor J M Panchal said.
The court also slapped punishment on them under various other sections, which will be concurrent to their life term.
The prosecution had sought death sentence for all the 31 convicts, saying that it was a heinous act.
On February 22, the court had convicted all the 31 while accepting the prosecution’s contention that there was a conspiracy behind the incident and convicted 31 under various sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC) like 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder) and 120B (criminal conspiracy).
They were also convicted under IPC section 147, 148 (rioting with deadly weapons), 323, 324,325,326 (causing hurt), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on religious grounds), various sections of the Indian Railways Act, Prevention of Damages to Public Property Act and Bombay Police Act.
The Court had acquitted 63 others, in the burning of S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express in 2002 near Godhra railway station where 59 persons were killed.
Those who were awarded capital punishment are Bilal Ismail Abdul Majid Sujela alias Bilal Haji, Abdul Razak Mohammad Kurkur, Ramjani Binyamin Behra, Hasan Ahmed Charkha alias Lalu, Jabir Binyamin Behra, Mehboob Khalid Chanda, Salim alias Salman Yusuf Sattar Zarda, Siraj Mohammad Abdul Meda alias Bala, Irfan Abdul Majid Ganchi Kalandar alias Irfan Bhopo, Irfan Mhammad Hanifabdul Gani Pataliya and Mehbub Ahmed Yusuf Hasan alais Latiko.
Panchal said the prosecution has not received the detailed copy of the judgement containing reasons for the punishment meted out and, therefore, he could not comment on the specific role and the differentiating factor due to which the 11 were given death and others life imprisonment.
The prosecutor said that this was perhaps the first case in the country in which 11 people have been awarded capital punishment.
Asked if the prosecution will appeal against the life imprisonment awarded to the 20 convicts, he said a decision to that effect will be taken by the special investigation team that probed the case.
The accused have been given 90 days time to appeal in the higher court, he said.
The time spent in jail by the 20 accused who have been awarded life, will be deducted from their total punishment, he said.
Defence counsel I M Munshi said the convicts will definitely appeal against the punishment awarded to them.
“It (the punishment) is very difficult to swallow. Till we get the copy of the judgement, we cannot comment much,” Munshi said.
“We will definitely appeal against the verdict in the high court. Till the high court confirms the judgement, it cannot be implemented,” he said.
Following the Godhra train burning incident on February 27, 2002, large scale communal violence had broken out in various parts of Gujarat in which over 1200 people died, mainly belonging to the minority community.
Disagreement with the judgement, Munshi said, “The court has not believed the first theory which said that the inflammable substance was poured from outside. The court has agreed to the second theory that the accused persons had entered the coach by cutting the vestibule between the S-6 and S-7 coaches and poured the petrol in it.”
He said the case of conspiracy had come almost four months after the incident.
On February 22, the court had accepted the theory of criminal conspiracy behind the burning of the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express carrying kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya based on scientific evidence, statement of witnesses and circumstantial and documentary evidence placed on record.
The trial conducted inside the Sabarmati Central Jail here began in June 2009 with the framing of charges against 94 accused in the carnage.
As many as 253 witnesses were examined during the year long 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 and 16 are absconding. The trial was conducted against 94 accused.
Out of 94, 63 were acquitted including the prime accused Maulana Umarji and Mohammad Hussain Kalota, who was president of the Godhra Municipality at that time, Mohammad Ansari and Nanumiya Chaudhary of Gangapur, Uttar Pradesh.
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’ traveling 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”.