Two years after hearings were concluded in the Godhra train burning case, the Gujarat High Court has upheld the death sentence of 20 convicts, commuted the death penalty of 11 and ordered the State government to pay a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the families of those who died in the carnage. The burning of a bogie in the train had resulted in 59 people, mostly ‘kar sevaks’ returning from Ayodhya being charred on February 27, 2002 at the Godhra station, triggering riots in the state. That the burning incident was the result of a conspiracy hatched by the perpetrators had earlier been established by the Nanavati Commission appointed by the Gujarat government. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) court appointed by the apex court had on March 1, 2011 convicted 31 people and acquitted 63 in the case. While 11 people were sentenced to death, 20 were given life in jail. Later, several appeals were filed in the High Court challenging the conviction, while the state government had questioned the acquittal of 63 people. A bench of Justices AS Dave and Justice GR Udhwani on Monday observed that the state government had failed to maintain law and order, and directed the State to pay compensation within six weeks. The question of compensation had not been considered by the trial court.
All the 31 were convicted under IPC sections related to murder, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy. Those acquitted included the prime accused, Maulana Umarji, the then president of Godhra Municipality Mohammad Hussain Kalota, Mohammad Ansari and Nanumiya Chaudhary of Gangapur, Uttar Pradesh. Their acquittals have been upheld in Monday’s order. The UPA-led Cabinet constituted a separate inquiry, headed by former Justice U.C. Banerjee who submitted his final report in March 2006, saying the incident was an “accident”. The Supreme Court quashed the inquiry later declaring it “unconstitutional” and “invalid.” This was a setback for Lalu Prasad Yadav who had ordered the setting up of the commission as Railways Minister in the then UPA government. This was one of the reasons why the credibility of the Manmohan Singh government suffered so grievously and the Muslim appeasement label stuck to the UPA that ultimately affected the results of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The events at Godhra triggered communal riots in which more than 1,000 persons were killed across the State.