Muslims put out Godhra fire, says Banerjee report
The fire in coach number S-6 of the Sabarmati Express, on February 27, 2002, in Godhra, was 'accidental' and not caused by the use of any inflammable material. The Justice UC Banerjee Committee, which probed into the incident, is understood to have concluded this in its final report.
Sources told HT that the probe panel -- given the status of a deemed commission under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952 -- categorically ruled out any conspiracy to set the coach on fire from outside.
Quoting from the deposition of Raju Bhargav, the then Panchmahal SP, the report says that Muslims not only permitted the district administration to use their (community) well but also provided a pump set to draw water to douse the flames.
The SP also told the inquiry panel that he had no information about Kar Sewaks returning from Ayodhya in the train. The report said Bhargav's deposition, a confirmation of the statement made by the then Additional DGP of the state intelligence bureau RB Srikumar, reinforced the probe panel's conclusion that the incident was a "mere accident" that did not occur as part of any conspiracy.
"How could there be any conspiracy when there was no information about the return of the Kar Sewaks," the panel noted. Moreover, Bhargav observed that since 1990, there was harmony in Godhra with no incident of communal violence.
First instituted as a high-powered committee, under a retired judge of the Supreme Court, the probe panel reportedly says that it received no cooperation from the state government till it was vested with powers of a Commission of Inquiry. It summons met with no response on as many as 14 occasions.
Sources said the body of the report contains Srikumar's sensational claim that he refused to be intimidated by Gujarat Home Secretary GC Murmu, who wanted him to tell the Nanavati Commission -- appointed by the Narendra Modi regime on March 6, 2002 -- that the fire was the outcome of a conspiracy.
Apart from damning the state government machinery, the report is also harsh on the then railways minister Nitish Kumar, who had told Parliament after the change of government at the Centre that the Commissioner of Railway Safety did not probe the incident as the Nanavati Commission was already looking into the matter.
The Banerjee panel says the Nanavati Commission was constituted only on March 6 -- a good seven days after the Sabarmati tragedy. As per rules, the Commissioner of Railway Safety is expected to start probing accidents without any loss of time.
Coming down heavily on the Rail administration under Nitish, the report notes that while the Safety Commissioner failed to act, there was no internal communication for almost eight months of the decision against probing the incident.