Godhra train burning not an act of terror nor a war on state: HC

Godhra train burning not an act of terror nor a war on state: HC
Gujarat High Court, that had on Monday commuted the death sentence for 11 convicted in the incident of Sabarmati Express coach burning in 2002 near Godhra which saw 57 persons were charred to death, has ruled that it was neither “terrorism” nor an “act of waging war” against the state. Though the court upheld the decision that there was a conspiracy angle to the entire incident, it said that proper method of investigation in the case of arson was not followed.

The court referred to Law Commission’s recommendation regarding the death penalty be abolished for a crime that is not related to terror or war against the state. “Death penalties eliminate a person to a point of no return. While considering the question of sentence to death, a duty is cast upon the court to deliberate on various facets of the sentence and to immunise itself to avoid branding imposition of a death sentence as `judge-centric' or `bloodthirsty'," the court that upheld life sentence for other 20 said.

Furthermore, the court observed that though the accused had ignited the coach with the intention to cause death and maximum damage, they “did not intend” to enhance the number of casualties. “...About more than 100 people could escape to the off-side...Besides, qualitative analysis of the entire evidence though sufficient enough to sustain conviction, do not justify awarding sentence of death and, therefore, we are of the opinion that the death penalty is not warranted in the facts and circumstances of the case by imposing an alternative sentence of rigorous imprisonment for life,” the judgment read.

The division bench of Justice A S Dave and Justice G R Udhwani, while ordering compensation of Rs 10 lakh each to the kin of deceased in train burning within six weeks of pronouncement of judgment, also pulled up the state government for failing to maintain law & order, saying that it failed to apprehend the trouble considering... "...Signal Faliya, Godhra is a highly sensitive communal riots prone zone to the knowledge of the state," the court said.

The judges also blamed the ministry of railways, stating that they did not take measures to ensure “safety” of passengers or provide alternative considering that the coach of Sabarmati Express was “overcrowded”.

The court, that heard the batch of petitions challenging special SIT court judgement of March 1, 2011, that acquitted 63 of 94 tried and convicted 31 people, with 20 handed over life imprisonment and remaining 11 to be hanged. The SIT court had accepted prosecution’s contention that there was a conspiracy on the lines of Justice Nanavati Commission that had said that coach had been set ablaze and was not an accident.

Confirming the conspiracy theory, the High Court has stated that the “emergence, pattern, nature, ignition, colour of flames and temperature along with smoke and fire in coach S-6 of the ill-fated train based on replies by experts persuade us to reject theories canvassed by learned counsel for the defence about fire in the coach was due to unknown cause other than the conspiracy for which proper method of investigation in the cases of arson was not followed.”

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