AHMEDABAD: Gujarat high court is likely to deliver its verdict on Monday on the appeals filed over the SIT court’s judgement in the Godhra train burning case. On February 28, 2002, 59 karsevaks returning from Ayodhya were charred to death when a compartment of the Sabarmati Express was set on fire by an angry crowd at the Godhra railway station. The ghastly incident had led to state-wide communal riots with sporadic violence continuing for nearly two months.
A bench of Justice AS Dave and Justice GR Udhwani will pronounce their verdict some 29 months after they completed hearing arguments on appeals filed against the SIT court’s verdict awarding death to 11 persons and sending 20 others to life imprisonment.
In 2011, the trial court had acquitted 63 persons, including Maulana Hussain Umarji, who was dubbed by the Gujarat police as the ‘mastermind’ of the carnage. Out of over 130 accused persons, 94 could be put on trial before the SIT court. Even after the SIT court delivered its verdict on February 22, 2011, some of the accused were nabbed and put on trial.
The HC is to decide on all convicts’ challenge to their conviction and punishment. The state government and the special investigation team (SIT) have sought confirmation from the high court to the death sentence given to 11 by the trial court. The government has also demanded maximum punishment for the 20 people given life imprisonment. Besides, it has questioned the acquittal of 63 persons. The kin of the fire victims’ too have sought death for all accused persons.
Like eight other cases of post-Godhra riots, the Supreme Court had stayed the trial in this case too for five years on a petition filed by the NHRC. The apex court later ordered the SIT to probe this case further.
The special SIT court upheld Gujarat police’s charges of conspiracy in this case and had ordered hanging for 11 people who had participated in the conspiracy allegedly hatched at Aman Guest House in Godhra to target S-6 compartment of the Sabarmati Express.
Invocation of Pota in this case made the incident a terrorist attack but the high court later quashed terror charges in this case. Trial in the case later commenced under IPC charges only. Testimony of eyewitness Ajay Baria and confessional statement of accused, Jabir Binyamin Behra, proved vital during the trial. However, the first person and the last person arrested by the police in this case were acquitted.
During the trial, the accused persons turned against their lawyers and did not allow them to bring certain evidence to counter the allegation of conspiracy in this case.