The special fast track court, which tried the Godhra train carnage case, was in agreement with the prosecution that a large number of local Muslims did gather “within minutes” of stopping the Sabarmati Express on the outskirts of the railway station on February 27, 2002, and they had stocks of petrol with them.

Additional sessions judge P.R. Patel held 31 persons guilty of a “pre-planned conspiracy” and setting fire to coach S-6. In the incident, 59 people, mostly Vishwa Hindu Parishad kar sevaks, were killed. Of the 31 found guilty, the court sentenced to death 11 convicts, particularly those it believed were present at a meeting, held the previous night, where a conspiracy was hatched, and those who, it agreed, had actually entered the coach and poured petrol before setting it afire. The other 20 convicts were sentenced to life imprisonment.

According to some of the observations made by the judge, the court believed that had there been no pre-planned conspiracy, “it would not have been possible to gather Muslim persons with deadly weapons within five to six minutes and reach near “A” cabin on the railway track” after the train was made to stop by chain pulling a second time.

The judge also accepted the prosecution theory of the perpetrators having collected petrol the previous night, after the meeting at the Aman Guest House. Had petrol not been kept ready in loose form in carboys the previous night near Aman Guest House, “it would not have been possible to reach with carboys containing petrol in a huge quantity immediately, that is within 5 to 10 minutes, near coach S-6.”

Taking the conspiracy theory forward, the court maintained that it was not a random attack on S-6, but was specifically targeted at the kar sevaks. “The target of the assailants were not all passengers of this train or any other train or any other Hindus, but definitely the kar sevaks who were travelling in this train,” the judge wrote in his 826-page judgment.

“Shouting of slogans by the assailants and announcement over a loudspeaker from a nearby mosque also clearly suggest motive and pre-plan.” The judge disagreed with the defence submission that the attack could be “reactions” to the alleged “misbehaviour” by the kar sevaks with some Muslims on the Godhra station platform, pointing out that skirmishes had taken place earlier at other railway stations too but there was no such violent reaction. “That the quarrel took place on the platform or misbehaviour with Muslim girls by kar sevaks was the only the cause for spontaneous reactions can never be accepted because as per the evidence on record, such quarrel had also taken place earlier at the Rudroli station in Uttar Pradesh, and at the Dahod station in Gujarat. However, it did not result in such serious reactions,” the court observed.

“Taking advantage of the alleged misbehaviour by kar sevaks with Muslim girls, the absconding accused Salim Panwala and accused Mehboob Ahmed alias Latiko raised shouts, called Muslim people from the nearby area of Signal Falia, misleading [them] that kar sevaks were abducting Muslim girl from inside the train, and also instructed [them] to stop the train by pulling the chain,” the judgement said. “Immediately a mob of more than 900 Muslim people attacked the train with sticks, iron pipes, iron rods, dhariyas, guptis, acid bulbs, burning rags, and the crowd was instigated by announcements over loudspeakers from the nearby Ali Masjid.”

The judge also said “by creating such tense atmosphere, the passengers were prevented from jumping out of the train.”

The judge went into the history of Godhra and the communal situation in the central Gujarat town, where the population between the two communities was almost equally divided. “Godhra is known for its history of communal riots. For Godhra, this is not the first incident of burning alive innocent persons belonging to the Hindu community,” he said. He quoted some 10 incidents of communal clashes in Godhra between 1965 and 1992, and said during many riots Hindus were “burnt alive and shops and houses came to be destroyed by fire.”

Going into the technicalities of the offence to constitute a “criminal conspiracy,” the judge said a “criminal conspiracy is complete as soon as two or more persons agree to do or cause to be done an illegal act. It is immaterial whether the illegal act was the ultimate object of such an agreement or was merely incidental to that object. The agreement in itself is enough to constitute the offence.”