The Gujarat High Court commuted the death sentence of 11 convicts in the 2002 Godhra train case to life imprisonment on Monday upholding a lower court’s order awarding life imprisonment to 20 other convicts in the case.
The bench of Justice AS Dave and Justice GR Udhwani pronounced its verdict today after hearing appeals challenging lower court’s convictions and acquittals in the case. The state government and other petitioners challenged the order of Special SIT Court in December 2011 that acquitted 63 accused and convicted 31.
Among those who were given respite in the case included the alleged key plotter, Maulana Umarji, the then president of Godhra Municipality. Besides, Mohammad Hussain Kalota, Mohammad Ansari and Narumiya Chaudhary are among the other main accused who were acquitted.
However, out of 31 convicted, 11 were sentenced to death while the remaining, were awarded life imprisonment. Victims’ family had appealed the court to change the life imprisonment of the 20 convicts into the death sentence, considering the harshness of the crime.
The SIT Court termed the Godhra train burning incident as a rarest of the rare and said the crime was performed through a well-planned conspiracy. The court’s observation was grounded on the finding of the Gujarat government-appointed Nanavati Commission. The commission concluded that the fire in the S-6 coach was not an accident, but it was set ablaze.
On February 27, 2002, around 59 people were killed as coach S6 of the Sabarmati Express was set on fire at the Godhra station. The victims were mostly ‘kar sevaks’, who were returning from Ram Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya. Their killing triggered a wave of communal violence in most parts of Gujarat.