The Nanavati Commission, which was set up by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s government in 2002 to inquire into the fire on coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express that killed 58 people and the subsequent riots, has stated that the incident was the result of a “pre-planned conspiracy”.
<b1>This is an endorsement of the Gujarat government’s stand on the issue, and contradicts the finding of the UC Banerjee committee, which said the evidence suggested the fire was an accident.
Modi tabled the first part of the Commission’s report before the Gujarat Assembly on Thursday. The Commission, comprising retired judges GT Nanavati and Akshay Mehta, had handed Part I of the report, which deals with the train fire, to Modi on September 18.
The report states that the Commission has come to the conclusion that “there was a conspiracy to burn coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express train coming from Ayodhya and to cause harm to the Kar Sewaks travelling in that coach”.
The conspiracy hatched appears to be a “part of a larger conspiracy to create terror and destabilise the Administration”, the report says. It however adds that, “there is no evidence regarding involvement of any definite religious or political organisation in the conspiracy”.
The Commission has sought to substantiate the conspiracy theory by relying upon statements of passengers who said the coach was stoned for 10-20 minutes and the alleged purchase of 140 litres of petrol the previous night. An eyewitness account claiming that sliding door of S-6 leading to S-7 was “forcibly opened” and a burning rag was thrown into S-6 was also quoted by the Commission as evidence.
The report has named Maulvi Umarji, who was arrested in 2003, for hatching and implementing the ‘conspiracy’ along with Razzack Kurkur, Salim Panwala, Shaukat Lalu, Imran Sheri, Rafiq Batuk, Salim Zarda, Jabbir and Shiraz Bala.
The conspiracy was hatched at the Aman Guest House in Godhra where the conspirators had spent the night of February 26, 2002, the Nanavati Commission has stated.
Soon after the train fire on the morning of February 27, 2002, Modi and the BJP had described the incident as a ‘conspiracy’. The original terms of reference of the one-man commission of enquiry set up by Modi’s government in March 2002 focused on investigating this ‘conspiracy’. Justice Nanavati, a retired Supreme Court judge, joined retired Gujarat High Court judge KG Shah as commission member two months later. Justice Mehta joined the commission after Justice Shah’s death in March 2008.
Though the first part of the report does not go into the post-inferno riots, the Commission has sought to absolve Chief Minister Modi and his Cabinet colleagues of any blame.
“There is absolutely no evidence to show that either the Chief Minister or any other Minister(s) had played any role in the Godhra incident or that there was any lapse on their part in providing protection, relief and rehabilitation to the victims of communal riots or in the matter of not complying with the recommendations and directions by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)”, the 188-page report said.