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Bannerjee panel illegal, says HC

india Updated: Nov 06, 2006 03:14 IST
Rathin Das
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A single-judge bench of Gujarat High Court on Friday set aside the Centre's notification appointing the UC Bannerjee committee to probe the cause of the Godhra train inferno on February 27, 2002.

The High Court ruled that the appointment of Justice Bannerjee committee was "un-Constitutional and illegal".

The high level committee headed by retired Supreme Court Justice UC Bannerjee had said the fire in the Sabarmati Express at Godhra was "accidental", caused by a short-circuit.

Allowing a petition filed by a survivor of the train fire, Justice DN Patel ruled that the Bannerjee committee report would not be tabled in Parliament and declared all further action on it "null & void".

Nilkanth Bhatia, who was injured in the Godhra train fire, had petitioned the court challenging the validity of the Bannerjee committee even as a two-judge panel appointed by the Gujarat Government was probing the blaze.

The High Court judge said the Railways had no authority to appoint the panel as it violated the Commission of Inquiries Act. The judge also ruled that the appointment of the committee two years and seven months after the Godhra carnage and the publication of the report just two days before the Bihar election was a "colourable" exercise of power.

The judge observed that under the railways' accident rules, an inquiry report has to be kept "confidential". But that was not the case in Godhra, Justice DN Patel said. Countering railway counsels Nirupam Nanavati and Megha Jani's arguments that the petitioner had no locus standi to challenge the formation of the inquiry committee, the judge said Bhatia was himself a "victim of the train blaze and every victim has a right to fair trial" and any deviation would tantamount to denying the petitioner right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The High Court judge said the Railway Accident Claim Tribunal had accepted the petitioner's claim that he was injured when the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express was set ablaze by a mob.

While prima facie evidence of inflammable liquid having been thrown at the coach was available, propounding the theory of accidental fire opposed the facts, Justice Patel observed. The judgment is subject to appeal, but advocate of petitioner Vijay Patel said it was "unlikely any of portion of the ruling could be turned down by a higher court".

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