Godhra train burning was conspiracy, Modi innocent: probe panel (Intro Roundup)

September 25th, 2008 - 10:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Narendra ModiAhmedabad/New Delhi, Sep 25 (IANS) Six years after the horrific burning of a train in Godhra killed 59 people and triggered Gujarat-wide communal violence, a probe panel headed by Justice (retd) G.T. Nanavati has concluded that it was no accident but a premeditated crime - leading to jubilation in the ruling BJP and cries of outrage from the Congress and rights activists. The 168-page first part of the panel’s report, which was tabled in the Gujarat assembly Thursday amid high drama, has virtually given a clean chit to Chief Minister Narendra Modi, saying there was no evidence to incriminate him or any member of his cabinet.

“There is absolutely no evidence to show that either the chief minister or any of the ministers in his council or police officers had played any role in the Godhra incident,” said the report.

Fifty-nine people, including 25 women and 15 children, were burnt alive when a violent mob set ablaze two coaches of the Sabarmati Express at the Godhra railway station on Feb 27, 2002. Many of them were Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists returning after a campaign in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh.

The gruesome incident led to sectarian violence that raged on for weeks in which 1,169 people, a majority of them Muslims, were killed and the ripples of which are still being felt.

In their report, retired high court judges G.T. Nanavati and Akshay Mehta said 140 litres of petrol was purchased as part of the conspiracy to burn the two coaches. The conspiracy was hatched by Moulvi Umarji at the Aman Guest House in Godhra, about 140 km from Ahemdabad, and was meant to spread terror in the area, the panel said.

According to the report, the arson was a premeditated act and there was heavy stone throwing at the S-6 and S-7 coaches for 10 to 20 minutes followed by the blaze that prevented people from coming out.

It says Godhra locals Razak Kurkur and Salim Panwala bought the 140 litres of petrol a day earlier and carried it in containers. Six others - Shaukat Lalu, Imran Sheri, Rafiq, Salim Zarda, Zabeer and Siraj Bala - were also involved in setting the crowded passenger train ablaze. All are in custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).

“The conspiracy hatched by these persons further appears to be a part of a larger conspiracy to create terror and destabilise the administration,” the report said.

The commission said its conclusion that the train burning was a “pre-planned conspiracy” was based on evidences gathered during its inquiry.

It said it noted statements of survivors, the reported stone pelting by the mob for 10-20 minutes to prevent passengers from coming out of the coach, 140 litres of petrol being purchased by Razzak Kurkur and Salim Panwala to execute the conspiracy, and an eyewitness account of the petrol being brought in cans to the station and also the admissions of Shaukat Lala and Mohammad Latika of having opened the door connecting the S6 and S7 coaches and then entering the S6 coach.

Hassan Lala had admitted before the panel that he had thrown a burning rag resulting in the fire.

Nanavati said in his report: “I have no doubt about the fire; it was not accidental.”

The two-member inquiry commission was set up by the state government in March 2002. When one of the members, Justice (retd) K.G. Shah, died earlier this year, Justice Mehta was appointed in his place.

The tabling of the report - that contradicts the findings of the U.C. Banerjee panel, set up by Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, which unequivocally stated that the fire was accidental - has created further divisions in the country’s polarised politics.

In the assembly, the opposition Congress walked out in protest as Minister of State for Home Amit Shah tabled the report on the first day of the three-day assembly session.

“It is very unfortunate. The partial report of the panel was tabled just to give political mileage to the BJP before the national elections. The first part of the report is confined to the Godhra incident and not what happened afterwards. We have to wait for the full part,” Congress general secretary in charge of party affairs in Gujarat B.K. Hariprasad told IANS in New Delhi.

Rights activist Teesta Setalvad said the sudden tabling could be in contempt of the Supreme Court, which had in March appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe various communal carnages, including Godhra, and is to present its report in December.

Pointing out that the Banerjee report had been stayed by the Gujarat High Court, she said: “Why was such a restraining order not passed on the Nanavati Commission report particularly when the SIT report is expected very soon.”

Labelling it a “travesty of justice”, lawyer Mukul Sinha of the Ahmedabad-based NGO Jan Sangharsh Manch said: “I am surprised that Modi and his men have been given clean chits. Therefore, seeing this report, it is clear that the Nanavati Commission is biased in favour of Modi.”

While the controversy raged, Nanavati defended his report.

“Unless I was satisfied, I would not have given the report. We have no doubt about what we have written,” Nanavati told a TV news channel.

Asked why did he prepare his report in two parts, one on the train burning and the other on the communal riots that followed, Nanavati said: “It is for the people to draw whatever inferences they want to. We thought it was a convenient thing to do, to present it in two parts.”

However, the BJP was triumphant.

“Justice Nanavati’s report is the most extensive, exhaustive and scientific report on the burning of the Sabarmati Express train,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said in the national capital.

Now, all eyes are on the second part of the report, due in December.

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