Ahmedabad, Feb 22: Upholding the theory of conspiracy, a special court today convicted 31 persons and acquitted 63 others, including key accused Maulvi Hussain Umarji, in the Godhra train carnage that killed 59 kar sewaks and triggered a mayhem in Gujarat that claimed over 1,200 lives, mainly Muslims, 9 years ago.
After a less than two-year trial conducted inside the Sabarmati Central jail here, Special Judge P R Patel accepted the conspiracy theory that contrasts the finding of a Commission of Enquiry appointed by former Railway Minister Lalu Prasad which had held that the burning of Coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express on Feb 27, 2002 was accidental.
The quantum of punishment would be announced on February 25 after hearing the 31 convicted under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) like 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder) and 120-B(criminal conspiracy).
Today's judgement immediately sparked a war of words between the BJP, which is ruling Gujarat and whose Chief Minister Narendra Modi earned a lot of flak over the large-scale violence in post-Godhra.
The BJP claimed it was a vindication of its stand that the train carnage was a conspiracy while Congress said it does not not wash the mass killings that followed Godhra.
Former CBI chief, who heads the Special Investigating Team (SIT) that took over investigation into Godhra incident and either other cases of post-Godhra riots, expressed satisfaction over the judgement.
Maintaining that the SIT would try to get justice in the other cases too, he hinted at challenging the acquittal in the train case in a higher court.
The charges upheld against the convicts come under IPC section 147, 148 (rioting with deadly weapons), 323, 324,325,326 (causing hurt), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on religious grounds), various sections of the Indian Railways Act, Prevention of Damages to Public Property Act and Bombay Police Act.
Special Public Prosecutor in the case J M Panchal said the motive behind the conspiracy was to target the Karsevaks who were involved in the Ayodhya movement.
Scientific evidence, statement of witnesses, circumstantial and documentary evidence placed on record formed the basis of the over 850 page judgement.
The trial began in June 2009 with the framing of charges against 94 accused in the carnage.
"Petrol was brought and the train was made to stop. Electricity was then cut and there was pouring of huge quantity of petrol and thereafter it was set afire so far as S-6 coach is concerned," Panchal said replying to a query on prosecution's theory of conspiracy.
On acquittal of Maulvi Umarji, who was projected as the prime conspirator, Panchal said that the court was not convinced with the evidence against him and did not find it fit enough to convict him in the case.
The other key accused, who are acquitted include Mohammad Hussain Kalota, who was President of the Godhra Municipality at that time, Mohammad Ansari and Nanumiya Chaudhary of Gangapur Uttar Pradesh.
The conspirators who were found guilt by the court include Haji Bilal, Abdul Razak Kurkur, Jabir Behra, Salim Zarda and Mehbub Hasan alias Latiko.
Defence lawyer A A Hasan said that court has agreed with the prosecution theory that the fire in S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express was not accidental.
The conviction was also based on statements of two employees of the petrol pump near the railway station who had name accused who had bought petrol from them, he said.
The court has also relied on statements of about nine witness recorded under Cr.PC 164 before a magistrate, to come to the conclusion that this was a conspiracy, Hassan said.
It however disregarded the statements of the local VHP leaders against one of the accused Mohammad Husssain Kalota, who was the president of the Godhra Municipality when the incident took place, he said.
The court found that the statements of local VHP leaders was politically motivated as Kalota had defeated BJP in the municipal polls to become president.
Though Hassan said that he was satisfied with the verdict, other defence lawyers some of the other accused I M Munshi and L R Pathan were disappointed.
They said that court had accepted the prosecution theory of criminal conspiracy.
Munshi said that the conspiracy theory was based on the report of the initial investigating officer Noel Parmar, who had again relied on the Forensic Science Laboratory report which were very inconclusive in their findings.
He also said the they were not given permission to examine some of the witnesses which they were relying on.
As many as 253 witnesses were examined during the year long trial and over 1,500 documentary evidences were presented before the court by the Gujarat police.
There were a total of 134 accused in the case, out of which 14 were released due to lack of evidence, five were juvenile, five died during proceedings of over nine years, 16 are absconding, and trial was conducted against 94 accused.
Of the 94, against whom the trial was conducted 80 are in jail and 14 are out on bail.
Two different panels appointed to inquire into the 2002 case had given different views on the Godhra train burning incident.
The Nanavati Commission, appointed by the Gujarat government to probe the carnage, had in the first part of the report concluded that the fire in the S-6 coach was not an accident, but it was caused by throwing petrol inside it.
"The burning of the coach S-6 was a pre-planned act. In other words there was a conspiracy to burn the coach of the train coming from Ayodhya and to cause harm to the 'karsevaks' travelling in it," the report submitted to the government in September 2008 had said.
The one-man U C Banerjee Commission, appointed by the Railway Ministry under Lalu Prasad Yadav, had said that fire was "accidental". PTI