In a further jolt to the Narendra Modi government, the Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to stay a Gujarat High Court order lifting the terror tag from the 2002 Godhra train fire that killed 59 karsewaks, triggering statewide anti-Muslim riots.
Petitioner Sardarji Maganji Vaghela Suresh, who lost his son in the carnage, has challenged the order of the high court dismissing his petition against the POTA Review Committee’s recommendation to drop POTA charges against the 134 accused in the case.
Senior counsel L. Nageshwar Rao mentioned his petition before a bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, which agreed to hear it on March 6. The Gujarat government too is understood to have challenged the high court’s verdict and its appeal is likely to come up for hearing on the same date.
While lifting the terror tag from the case, the high court had on February 12 allowed the petitioner to approach the Supreme Court within two weeks against its verdict.
The high court had extended the stay on all proceedings in connection with the Godhra case and had also stayed the transfer of the case from designated POTA court to a normal sessions court.
While holding that the POTA Review Committee’s finding to drop terror charges against the accused was binding on the government and the designated court, the Supreme Court had in October last said that the POTA review panel’s findings could be challenged in the high court.
About 59 karsevaks were killed when the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express was torched near the Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002.
The Nanavati Commission set up by the Modi government has said the fire was a result of a conspiracy, while the Banerjee Committee set up by UPA government concluded that it was an accidental fire.
However, the HC had said: “We find that the shocking incident as it is capable of being treated as a serious criminal act falls short of the requirement of an act of terror,” the court said in its judgment.
It had dismissed a petition challenging the findings of POTA panel, which had concluded that there was no pre-planned conspiracy in Godhra and the incident was a “result of the sudden provocation at the railway station between the passengers and vendors.” The HC said it found “no infirmity in the opinion of the committee” and there was no merit in the arguments put forward to discredit its report.