Godhra train burning case: Gujarat High Court commutes death sentence to 11 convicts into life imprisonment

Gandhinagar: The Gujarat High Court on Monday upheld the conviction of 11 persons in the Sabarmati Express bogie burning case but commuted their death sentence to life term, even as it directed payment of Rs 10 lakh as compensation to next of kin of each of the 59 who perished in it.

The 2-judge division bench also observed that the state government had failed to maintain law and order. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister of the state when the incident took place. The division bench also upheld the life sentence of 20 others who had been convicted, and maintained the acquittal of 63 persons by the trial court. Thus, the 11 accused, who were earlier awarded death sentence, will now serve life term.

Fifty-nine passengers travelling by coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express were burnt alive near the Godhra railway station; their coach was gutted in an arson attack on February 27, 2002, triggering state-wide communal riots which left over 1000 people dead. The special court trying the Godhra train carnage case had in its judgment on March1, 2011, awarded the death penalty to 11 of the 31 convicted in the case, in which 84 people were accused. Interestingly, Maulana Umarji who was being projected as the prime accused, was acquitted by the trial court.

A total of 130 persons were accused of which 94 stood trial on charges of murder and conspiracy. Of these 63 were acquitted by the trial court. The judgment was challenged in the Gujarat High Court which heard the petition but reserved its order for an extended period of time. The court regretted the delay in its judgment.

The High Court also ordered the state government to pay a compensation of Rs 10 lakhs to the next of kin of all those who were burnt to death. Vijay Patel, lawyer for the victims of the Godhra train carnage, said that there were some discrepancies in the investigation but nothing could be done about it. ‘‘However, since the court has found conspiracy in the incident, we expected strictest punishment under the law. We are, nevertheless, partially satisfied since the court has upheld the incident as a planned conspiracy. We shall approach the Supreme Court,” he added.

The case: Appeals challenging convictions and acquittals in the burning of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra in 2002

Today’s verdict: Convictions and acquittals stand, including the acquittal of Maulvi Umarji, the accused mastermind

Who were the deceased: They were mostly kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya

Compensation: Court orders payment of Rs 10 lakh to family of each person who died within six weeks

Court observation: State failed to ensure law  and order. That is why the compensation

Status quo: No change in the status of 20 others who were sentenced to lifetime in jail

The surprise: Death sentence of 11 accused commuted to life term

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