The Nanavati Commission report describing the 2002 Sabarmati Express fire at Godhra as a conspiracy has not surprised anyone. The report has in fact confirmed the worst apprehensions of rights activists, Non-Governmental Organisations and lawyers that the commission would toe the BJP line that the fire was the result of a conspiracy.
The composition of the commission itself had courted controversy from the beginning.
Justice KG Shah, who initially formed the single-judge panel, had the dubious reputation of having sentenced some Muslims to death merely on the basis of circumstantial evidence. The Supreme Court had turned down his ruling and passed strictures against such judgements, which relied merely on circumstantial evidence, eminent laywer Girish Patel recalled.
The hue and cry in judicial and activist circles over Justice Shah’s alleged ‘saffron’ background had forced the Gujarat government to appoint Justice GT Nanavati as the new chairman of the reconstituted two-judge commission. After Justice Shah died in March this year, the Modi government filled the vacancy with retired High Court judge Akshay Mehta, perceived to be sympathetic to the ‘saffron’ cause.
Informed sources are amazed that the commission has not taken into consideration vital evidence which contradicts the conspiracy theory propagated by Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders. For example, Hari Prasad Joshi, who lost his wife in the fire, had narrated how the rear of his jacket caught fire from above when he was crawling out of it through dark smoke. His testimony contradicts the police theory that petrol was poured on the floor of the compartment.
No wonder Dr Mukul Sinha, physicist-turned-legal activist who had appeared before the Commission for six years till Justice Akshay Mehta was appointed as the second member, described the report as an “absurd conclusion”. Human rights activist Dr JS Bandukwala has called the Godhra report a “shame” on Gujarat’s judiciary.