Apex court refuses to suspend ruling on Godhra carnage accused

February 24th, 2009 - 11:27 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 24 (IANS) The Supreme Court Tuesday refused to suspend a Gujarat High Court verdict the 2002 Godhra train carnage was not an act of terror and did not attract the stringent provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).
In a snub to the Gujarat government, a bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justice P. Sathasivam refused to accede to the state government supported-plea to suspend the high court’s order until the apex court ruled on a lawsuit by Sardarji Maganji Waghela, a relative of a victim of the Feb 27, 2002, Godhra train carnage.

While ruling that the Godhra train carnage accused did not attract the stringent anti-terror law, the Gujarat High Court suspended the ruling’s operation till Feb 26. It, thus, gave time to petitioner Waghela to approach the apex court, if he deemed it fit.

As Waghela, supported by the state government, reached the apex court Tuesday, the Supreme Court bench sid it would not suspend the high court ruling, and would hear Waghela’s objections March 6.

Earlier on Oct 21 last year, the Supreme Court ordered terror charges be dropped against all Godhra train carnage accused. They were being tried for setting ablaze a sleeper coach of Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station on Feb 27, 2002, which killed 59 pilgrims in the coach.

A bench of Chief Justice Balakrishnan, Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice R.V. Raveendran had ordered their trial instead under normal penal offences like murder and arson.

While ordering that terror charges against them be dropped, the apex court ruled that the accused cannot be tried under the POTA after the statutory review panel recommended scrapping of the terror clause.

The bench held that the recommendations of the committee were biding on the state government as the panel was set up under the now repealed POTA.

The apex court subsequently on Dec 1 last year also ordered transfer of the trial of all Godhra train carnage accused to normal sessions court from the special anti-terror courts.

The apex court also ordered the special anti-terror court at Sabarmati in Ahmedabad to send all records of Godhra carnage cases to the normal sessions court at Godhra.

On both occasions, the apex court said that those, like the state government or the kin of victims who are aggrieved by the review committee decision to drop terror charges, can challenge it separately before the high court or the apex court itself.

Waghela, supported by the state government, approached the apex court in this context.

But with the apex court declining to stay the high court order, the transfer of the trial documents from the special anti-terror court to a normal court would begin forthwith, said a counsel.

The lower courts will also be technically free to hear bail pleas of the Godhra train accused.

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