A fast-track court in Ahmedabad convicted 31 accused and acquitted 63, including a prime accused Maulavi Umarji, on Tuesday for lack of evidence in the 2002 Godhra train-burning case.
The court, however, imposed some conditions on the acquitted, asking them to furnish personal bonds of R10,000 each and sureties and not to leave the country without the court's permission.
Designated judge PR Patel also upheld that the incident was an “act of pre-planned conspiracy”. He conducted the trial from June 2009 to September 2010 and examined 255witnesses and the 19 chargesheets filed by the state police and would pass the sentence on February 25.
The verdict came almost nine years after 59 people, mostly kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya, were burnt to death by a mob on February 27, 2002 at Godhra station in central Gujarat. Gfx: Ticks and Crosses
The incident triggered the country's worst communal riots in Gujarat, leaving more than 1,200 people — mostly from the minority community — killed in a three-week-long carnage across the state.
Later, the Nanavati commission, appointed by Narendra Modi-led state government, endorsed the conspiracy theory in its first report.
The commission that submitted its first report in 2008 held that Maulavi Umarji was one of the main conspirators in the case.
Meanwhile, a petition is still pending in the Supreme Court by Godhra victims' families against the Gujarat High Court's decision to drop charges under the Prevention of Terrorism Act against the accused.
On February 12, 2009, the high court upheld the POTA review committee’s decision to drop the charges. Senior counsel Sushil Kumar, who represented the prosecution, said the petition would come up for hearing on March 3.
He said if the apex court revived the POTA charges against the accused, it could lead to a re-trial of the case.
Tuesday’s verdict was delivered in a courtroom inside the high-security Sabarmati central jail where 80 accused had been lodged since their arrest in 2002. No media persons were allowed inside the courtroom.
“The motive of the conspiracy was to set the train on fire... The verdict is based on oral evidence and eyewitness accounts,” special public prosecutor JM Panchal said outside the court.
The verdict has vindicated the stand of the Gujarat government that the train burning incident was a "well hatched pre-planned conspiracy which was meant to kill kar sevaks to create communal tensions in the state."
"The judgment today nullifies all the wrong propaganda of the so-called NGOs that the Godhra train burning incident was not a conspiracy," Gujarat government spokesperson Jaynarayan Vyas said.
The prosecution's case was based on the investigations by a special investigation team that had identified the 31 convicted people as a core team that planned the attack. The SIT report claimed that these 31 people held meetings, planned to target the train when it reached the station and burnt the coach.