Eleven people were sentenced to death and 20 to life imprisonment for the February 27, 2002 Godhra train carnage by a special trial court in Ahmedabad on Tuesday.
Fifty-nine kar sevaks were burnt alive in the S6 coach of the Sabarmati Express near Godhra railway station, sparking the worst communal riots in Gujarat that left more than 1,200 people dead — most of them Muslims — in three weeks.Terming the case "rarest of rare", the trial court said all the active conspirators deserved the death penalty while their associates were spared the gallows and given life terms. It also said it wasn’t an act of "terror" but rather, a planned "conspiracy" to target the kar sevaks in the train.
"The court, looking into their active role in the conspiracy and in setting fire to the S6 coach of the Sabarmati Express near Godhra, gave the death penalty to 11 people,” special public prosecutor JM Panchal said after the sentencing.
Panchal said the prosecution had sought death for all 31 people held guilty by the court on February 22. The court had acquitted 63 accused out of a total of 94 for want of evidence, including Maulavi Hussain Umarji, the alleged mastermind.
The court has given the convicts three months to challenge its verdict in a higher court. IM Munshi, counsel for the accused, said: "We will definitely appeal against the verdict in the high court." He added: "Till the high court confirms the judgment, it cannot be implemented."
Asked if the prosecution would appeal against the life terms for the 20 convicts, Panchal said a decision would be taken by the special investigation team that probed the case after studying the judgment.
The Godhra trial started in June 2009 and was completed in September 2010. During its course, 253 witnesses were examined by the court. Initially, there were 134 accused, out of which 14 were released due to lack of evidence, five were juvenile, five died during the proceedings of over nine years and 16 are absconding. The trial was conducted against 94 accused.