Gujarat court sends two men to life in prison for Godhra train killings
Two men were jailed for life on Monday for setting fire to the Sabarmati Express train in Gujarat’s Godhra in February 2002, which sparked the state’s worst communal riots, by a special court in Ahmedabad on Monday.
Judge HC Vora convicted Farooq Bhana and Imran alias Sheru Batik after the prosecution proved they were the conspirators in the burning of S6 coach that led to the death of 59 passengers, mostly Hindu devotees returning from Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. The court acquitted Hussain Suleman Mohan, Kasam Bhamedi and Faruk Dhantiya.
The five men were caught between 2015 and 2016 and tried in a court set up at the Sabarmati Central Jail in Ahmedabad. Mohan was arrested from Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh, Bhamedi from Dahod railway station in Gujarat, Dhantiya and Bhana were nabbed from their houses in Godhra, while Batik was caught from Malegaon in Maharashtra.
Eight accused in the case are still absconding.
Earlier, the court had convicted 31 people in the case for murder and conspiracy but acquitted 63 others due to lack of evidence, which notably included prime accused Maulana Umarji on March 1, 2011. The court had later awarded death sentence to 11 of them and life imprisonment to 20 others.
However, the Gujarat High Court had in October 2017 commuted the death sentence of 11 convicts to life imprisonment while upholding the punishment awarded by the special SIT court to 20 others.
Fifty-nine ‘karsevaks’ were killed in the Godhra train burning incident of February 27, 2002, triggering the worst communal riots in the history of Gujarat in which over 1,000 people, mostly belonging to the minority community, were killed.
The trial in the case began in June 2009 with the framing of charges against 94 accused of burning coach S6 of the Sabarmati Express in which the Hindu devotees were travelling. At least 134 people were accused in the case, out of which 14 were released over lack of evidence, five were juveniles, five died during proceedings of over nine years and 16 are absconding.
Two different panels were appointed to inquire into the case and both gave different views on the Godhra train burning incident. The Nanavati Commission, appointed by the Gujarat government and including justice GT Nanavati and justice KG Shah, had in the first part of its report concluded that the coach fire was not an accident, but caused by throwing petrol inside it.
The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government set up a separate inquiry commission headed by justice UC Banerjee, who in his report submitted in March 2006 said the incident was an accident. The Supreme Court rejected the report as unconstitutional and invalid. The top court later constituted a special investigation team.
Justice Shah died in March 2008 before the commission could complete its inquiry. His position was taken by justice Akshay H Mehta. Justice Nanavati and justice Mehta submitted the final report of the Nanavati-Shah Commission that same year and said the train burning was a conspiracy.
The case is currently under investigation and is being monitored by the Supreme Court.
(With PTI inputs)
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