Godhra case: Court rules death for 11, 20 imprisoned for life

Godhra
Eleven of the 31 convicted last week for burning down coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express nine years ago were handed the death sentence by a special Godhra court on Tuesday.

The court jailed the other 20 for life in the 2002 incident that left 59 passengers dead, mostly Vishwa Hindu Parishad members returning from Ayodhya. The deaths triggered riots in Gujarat which claimed over 1,200 lives.

Special Judge P R Patel categorised the crime as 'rarest of the rare' and slapped more punishment on those jailed under various sections of the penal code. These will run concurrent to their life term.

The prosecution had sought the death sentence for all 31 convicts.

On February 22, the court convicted all 31 while accepting the prosecution's contention there was a conspiracy behind the incident and convicted 31 under various sections of the Indian Penal Code like murder, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy.

They were also convicted under IPC Section 147, 148 (rioting with deadly weapons), 323, 324,325,326 (causing hurt), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on religious grounds), various sections of the Indian Railways Act, Prevention of Damages to Public Property Act and Bombay Police Act.

The court acquitted 63 others.

Those who were awarded capital punishment are Bilal Ismail alias Abdul Majid Sujela alias Bilal Haji, Abdul Razak Mohammad Kurkur, Ramjani Binyamin Behra, Hasan Ahmed Charkha alias Lalu, Jabir Binyamin Behra, Mehboob Khalid Chanda, Salim alias Salman Yusuf Sattar Zarda, Siraj Mohammad Abdul Meda alias Bala, Irfan Abdul Majid Ganchi Kalandar alias Irfan Bhopo, Irfan Mhammad Hanifabdul Gani Pataliya and Mehbub Ahmed Yusuf Hasan alias Latiko.

Public Prosecutor J M Panchal said the prosecution has not received details of the judgement and, therefore, he could not comment on the specific role and the differentiating factors due to which 11 were given death and others life imprisonment.

The prosecutor said this was perhaps the first case in the country in which 11 people have been awarded capital punishment.

Asked if the prosecution will appeal against the life imprisonment awarded to the 20 convicts, he said a decision on this will be taken by the special investigation team that probed the case.

The accused have been given 90 days time to appeal in the higher court, he said.

The time spent in jail by the 20 accused who have been awarded life, will be deducted from their total punishment, he said.

Defence counsel I M Munshi said the convicts will definitely appeal against the punishment awarded to them. "It (the punishment) is very difficult to swallow. Till we get the copy of the judgement, we cannot comment much," Munshi said.

"We will definitely appeal against the verdict in the High Court. Till the High Court confirms the judgement, it cannot be implemented," he said.

The Godhra trial conducted inside the Sabarmati Central Jail here began in June 2009 with the framing of charges against the 94 accused.

As many as 253 witnesses were examined during the trial and over 1,500 documentary evidences were presented before the court by the Gujarat police.

There were a total of 134 accused in the case, out of whom 14 were released due to lack of evidence, five were juvenile, five died during proceedings of over nine years, 16 are absconding, and the trial conducted against 94.

Two different panels appointed to inquire into the 2002 case had given different views on the Godhra train burning incident.

The Nanavati Commission, appointed by the Gujarat government to probe the carnage, had in the first part of the report, concluded that the fire in the S-6 coach was not an accident, but it was caused by throwing petrol inside it.

"The burning of the coach S-6 was a preplanned act. In other words there was a conspiracy to burn the coach of the train coming from Ayodhya and to cause harm to the 'kar sevaks' travelling in it," the report submitted to the government in September 2008 had said.

The one-man U C Banerjee Commission appointed by the Railway Ministry under Lalu Prasad Yadav had said that fire was "accidental".

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