“After train stopped, 5 of the accused set coach S-6 afire”

Special court judge P.R. Patel, in his judgment in the Godhra train carnage case, held that a “conspiracy” was hatched on the night of February 26, 2002 at the Aman Guest House in the Gujarat town, where besides Abdul Razzak Kurkur, four persons — Salim Panwala, who is believed to be in Pakistan, Farooq Bana, Salim Jarda and Salim Bana were present.

The judge maintained that on February 27, 2002, after the Sabarmati Express halted near “A” cabin of the Godhra station following chain pulling, five of the accused — Ayub Patalia, Irfan Kalandar, Mehboob Popa, Shaukat Patalia and Siddique Vohra — broke open the vestibule between coaches S-6 and S-7, entered S-6, in which a large number of the VHP kar sevaks were travelling, poured sizable quantity of petrol and set the coach aflame, causing the death of 59 people. They had collected the petrol from the “Bawa” pump near the station the previous night.The court, however, has not named them the principal accused. It invoked all relevant Sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code against all the 31 accused. But, according to Public Prosecutor J.M. Panchal, nine persons, barring the absconding Salim Panwala, who were named as having been present in the guest house to hatch the “conspiracy” and those who entered S-6 to set it afire, could attract capital punishment.

According to Mr. Panchal, the court accepted the “conspiracy” theory on the basis of scientific, oral and circumstantial evidence.

Defence not happy

But I. M. Munshi, one of the six-member counsel for the accused, regretted that the court based its judgment on the “evidence” of only four witnesses and an alleged “confessional statement” by one of the accused, which did not merit being “counted.”

According to Mr. Munshi, the court heavily relied on the statements by Ajay Baria, a tea vendor on the station platform, and Sikandar Mohammad, who lived near the mosque adjacent to the station and had “rushed” to the platform on hearing the “commotion.” Both Ajay and Sikandar claimed in their statements given under Section 164 of the Cr.PC that they had actually “seen” the five accused enter S-6 by breaking the vestibule and pour petrol.

Two others who gave statements under Section 164 were Prabhatsinh Chauhan and Ranjit Jodha, both employees of the “Bawa” pump. They told the investigating authorities that they had “sold” 120 litres of petrol the previous night to the accused. The only “confessional statement” was given by Jabir Behra, one of the accused, who claimed to have “knowledge” of the “conspiracy” and the events thereafter.

Dismissing the reliability of these statements, Mr. Munshi said all the five statements were later retracted by the witnesses, and the statements of Ajay Baria and Sikandar were recorded by the police more than a year after the incident, while the petrol pump employees had in their original statements denied having sold petrol loose as originally claimed by the police. Only after the investigation was handed over to the then CID (crime) inspector, Noel Parmar, did he “manage” to “extract confessions from the two that they sold petrol in cans to the accused and that earlier they were scared of confessing about it.”

Similarly, Mr. Munshi pointed out, Salim Behra gave the “confessional statement” when the case was being tried under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which has since been repealed. So the statement given under the POTA would not hold and it should not have been relied upon by the court.

“No evidence”

Referring to the acquittal of Moulana Umarji, whom the police originally held the “principal conspirator,” Mr. Munshi said the prosecution could not produce even an “iota of evidence” against him. The aged Moulana was actually running a relief camp with the permission of the District Collector, following the riots post-Godhra, when the police picked him up. A loudspeaker blaring from the nearby mosque “inciting” the mob was also a “cooked up story” by the police. For, after Umarji, the police named Moulana Abdullah as speaking on the public address system at that time but later it was found that he was not even present at Godhra and was in fact abroad on the fateful day.

Mr. Munshi made it clear that the 31 convicted would move the Gujarat High Court against the verdict. He also hinted at the possibility of the acquitted filling a case against the State government for compensation as they had spent nearly nine years in jail for no crime.

Mr. Panchal said he was “satisfied” with the judgment but declined to comment on the acquittal of a huge number of accused. “The court verdict is to be respected and there can be no debate on it.”

About the prosecution approaching the High Court against the acquittal of the 63 accused, Mr. Panchal said a decision could be taken only after going through the entire judgment.

Besides the nine accused the court believed were in the Aman guest house and to have entered S-6, those convicted are Salim Vohra, Abdul Sattar Ghanchi, Abdul Raoof Desli, Yunus Ghadiali, Ibrahim Samal, Bilal Badam, Farooq Ghanchi, Siraj Bana, Qasim Biriyani, Anwar Moola, Ramzan Behra, Hasan Charkha, Mehboob Chanda, Ibrahim Samal, Mehboob Pitha, Ilyas Koda, Ramzani, Jabir Behra, Soyeb Kalandar, Bilal Abdul Ghanchi, Bhuria, and Ismail Mumtaz.