Ahmadabad : A special court on Tuesday held 31 people guilty of burning the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002, killing 59 passengers, mainly kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya.
Additional sessions judge P R Patel acquitted 63 of the 94 accused for lack of evidence in Gujarat`s first and biggest case under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) where 134 accused were booked under terror laws. The court upheld the conspiracy theory but freed Maulvi Hussain Umarji, a 63-year-old the police had accused of plotting the killings. Of those acquitted, 13 were already out on bail; the rest would be free after nearly nine years in prison.
The court convicted 31 people for murder and conspiracy and would announce sentences on Friday. It described the motive of the attack as the accused`s anger against kar sevaks.
Those acquitted cried out of joy while the convicts anxiously listened to the judge who took some 30 minutes to read out the judgment after walking into the courtroom.
The Godhra train burning had sparked off riots across the state in 2002 in which nearly 1,200 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. The riots were seen as revenge for the killing of kar sevaks at Godhra.
The 815-page judgment convicts the accused mainly on the basis of confessions before the magistrate, including those who retracted. Forensic evidence combined with 50 eye-witness accounts helped the court conclude that a group forced open the vestibule to get inside the coach, poured petrol and set it ablaze. Haji Bilal, Razak Kurkur, Salim Zarda, Hasan Charkha, Mehboob Latika, Jabir Behra, Irfan Bhobho and Shaukat Pataliya, who lived in Signal Falia of Godhra, were among those convicted based on statements by witnesses and accused under Section 164 of CrPC.
With Pota dropped, the court also held them guilty of rioting, arson, damaging public property and violating other railway laws. The original case had five accused below 18 years of age who were sent to a juvenile court. Five accused died during trial.
Judge Patel appeared to have agreed with the larger part of the version given by investigating officer Noel Parmar who was member of the first special investigation team (SIT) set up by the Gujarat government. One of the main reasons for the acquittals, say lawyers, were the conflicting versions of police investigations and the fact that the police randomly picked up at least 70 people while combing Godhra on the night of February 27, 2002 and later booked them under Pota. Among them was former president of Godhra municipality Mohammed Hussain Kalota who is now free. The conviction was based on investigations by the Supreme Court appointed special investigation team headed by ex-CBI chief RK Raghavan.