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2002 Godhra train burning case: Gujarat HC commutes death sentence of 11 convicts to rigorous life imprisonment

More than two years after had hearing concluded in the Godhra train burning case, the Gujarat High Court on Monday pronounced the judgment on a clutch of appeal petitions challenging the special trial court’s sentencing.
The division bench of Gujarat High Court, while upholding the findings of special trial court, commuted the capital punishment to rigorous life imprisonment for 11 convicts and upheld the life sentence to 20 others. The high court also confirmed the acquittal of 63 other accused, including one of the main accused Maulana Umarji, who passed away in 2013.
The trial court, presided over then additional sessions judge P R Patel, currently posted as registrar, high court, in 2011 had held the case as “rarest of rare”. The court accepted the findings of the Supreme Court appointed-Special Investigation Team (SIT), which claimed that a conspiracy was hatched by the accused a day before the arrival of Sabarmati Express train.
Pronouncing the judgment, the division bench of Justice Anant S Dave and Justice G R Udhwani held that the state government failed in discharging its duty in maintaining law and order during the incident, and directed it to pay compensation of Rs 10 lakh each to the families of 59 persons who were killed in the train fire. The bench said that the trial court judgment did not address this aspect and said that compensation to those who suffered injuries should be decided the government.
Before reading out its verdict the bench led by justice Dave said, “We regret for the delay in pronouncing the judgment…we understand the
difficulties of victims and convicts…there are certain things which are not in our control.” The bench said that they arrived at their conclusion after going through the records, the statements of injured, passengers, railway employees, railway police, Godhra town police, fire brigade and forensic reports.
On February 27, 2002 coach number S-6 of Sabarmati Express train was torched by a mob at Godhra railway station in which 59 people, mostly karsevaks, were burned burnt to death. A day later, the incident triggered widespread communal riots in various parts of Gujarat.
Initially, the accused were charged under Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), but later the high court revoked the charges following the recommendations of the Central POTA Review Committee.

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