Godhra train carnage: 11 get death, 20 to serve life term

The 31 people were convicted & held guilty of conspiring & setting on fire the S6 coach of Sabarmati Exp near the Godhra railway station in Feb 2002.

Ahmedabad: Nine years after the Godhra
train carnage, 11 people were on Tuesday sentenced to death and 20
awarded life imprisonment by a special court here for the 2002
incident that left 59 `karsevaks` dead and triggered communal
riots in Gujarat killing over 1200 people, mainly Muslims.

Terming the incident as "rarest of the rare", special
judge PR Patel awarded death sentence to 11 of the 31
convicts and ordered they be "hanged by the neck till dead".

This is perhaps the first case in the country in which
11 people have been awarded capital punishment, special public
prosecutor JM Panchal said after the court pronounced the
punishment inside Sabarmati Jail. The death penalty will have
to be confirmed by the high court.

The court while sentencing 20 others to life
imprisonment said, "The sentence of imprisonment shall run
concurrently... The accused shall be entitled to benefit of
set-off, of the period of their detention as an undertrial
prisoner during the investigation and trial."

The court also imposed a fine of Rs 17,000 on each of
the 31 convicts under various IPC sections.

On February 22, the court had convicted 31 people
while accepting the prosecution`s contention that there was a
conspiracy behind the train burning incident in which 59
`karsevaks` returning from Ayodhya were killed in February
2002 and acquitted 63 other accused in the case.

All the 31 men were convicted under various IPC
sections like 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder) and 120B
(criminal conspiracy).

Besides, they were also convicted under IPC sections
147, 148 (rioting with deadly weapons), 149 (unlawful
assembly) 323, 324, 325, 326 (causing hurt), 153A (promoting
enmity between different groups on religious grounds), various
provisions of the Indian Railways Act, Prevention of Damages
to Public Property Act and Bombay Police Act.

"The court looking into their active role in the
conspiracy and setting afire S-6 coach of the Sabarmati
Express train near Godhra railway station (on February 27,
2002), gave death penalty to 11 people," Panchal said.

Those 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, Irfan Mohammad Hanif
abdul Gani Pataliya and Mehbub Ahmed Yusuf Hasan alias Latiko.

Those acquitted included 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.

Panchal said the prosecution has not received the copy
of the judgement containing reasons for the punishment meted
out and, therefore, he could not comment on the specific role
and the differentiating factors due to which the 11 were given
death and others life imprisonment.

Defence counsel I M Munshi said he was not happy with
the verdict and would appeal in the high court.

"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.

Explaining his 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, opened the sliding door and
poured petrol in it."

He said the case of conspiracy was made almost four
months after the incident and the statements on which the
court seemed to have relied were recorded months after the

"Statement of witness Sikander was recorded after one
and half years while confessional statement of Jabbir Behra
was also recorded after considerable delay," he said.

The prosecution failed to explain the delay in
recording statements of key witnesses, Munshi said.

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.

Out of the 94 accused tried, the court found 31 guilty
of criminal conspiracy and murder, while 63 others were
acquitted of all charges.

The Nanavati Commission, appointed by the Gujarat
government to probe the carnage, had concluded that the fire
in the S-6 coach was not an accident, but it was caused by
throwing petrol inside it.

On the other hand, the one-man UC Banerjee Commission
appointed by the Railway Ministry under Lalu Prasad had said
that fire was "accidental".