20 sentenced to life imprisonment

A special fast track court on Tuesday sentenced 11 convicts to death and 20 others to life imprisonment in the 2002 Godhra train burning case.

The court, however, gave the convicts 90 days to appeal against the judgment in the Gujarat High Court.

Defence counsel I.M. Munshi said the appeal would be filed within the stipulated period. “We are thoroughly dissatisfied with the court order, and we will appeal in the High Court,” he told journalists after emerging from the special court room in the high-security Sabarmati Central Jail, where judge P.R. Patel announced the quantum of punishment to the convicted.

The entire proceedings of the special court, beginning with the trial on May 1, 2009 to the delivery of the final order on Tuesday, were held in camera.

Delivering its judgment on February 22, the court held the 31 people guilty of conspiring and setting ablaze the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express on the outskirts of the Godhra station on February 27, 2002.

The train was returning from Ayodhya to Ahmedabad with a large number of ‘kar sevaks' of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

Fifty-nine were killed in the fire, while more than 1,100 lost their lives in the riots caused by the incident.

The court, however, acquitted 63 others, including Moulana Umarji, who the police earlier claimed was the “mastermind” of the conspiracy.

The 11 convicts sentenced to death include Abdul Razzak Kurkur, owner of the Aman guesthouse near the Godhra station where the court believed the meeting to “hatch the conspiracy” was held the night before the incident; the former independent member of the Godhra Municipality, Ismail Suleja alias Haji Bilal, who was allegedly present at the meeting and hindered the firefighters from reaching the burning train and dousing the fire; and Jabbir Binyamin Behra, whose “confessional statement” was one of the most important evidences for the prosecution to establish the conspiracy theory.

The others given the capital punishment were Ramzani Binyamin Behra, Mehboob Hassan alias Latiko, Siraj Bala, Irfan Kalandar, Irfan Patadia, Hassan Lalu, Mehboob Chanda and Salim Zarda.

All of them were either a party to hatching the conspiracy or were among those who entered the S-6 coach, tearing open the vestibule and pouring petrol in the coach before setting it afire.