The court pronounced judgment on the role of over 90 people accused of conspiring and burning the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002. Fifty-nine people, mostly Kar Sevaks returning from Ayodhya, were killed in the incident.
The court has upheld that there was a conspiracy behind the attack on the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express. The other theory was that it was a spontaneous riot situation fuelled by an altercation between Kar Sevaks and Muslim vendors at Godhra station in Gujarat. The Narendra Modi government has for long argued that this was a pre-planned attack.
The key accused Maulvi Umarji, however, has been acquitted due to lack of evidence.
A 2002 report by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) had accused Maulvi Umarji of ordering four lieutenants to mobilise a mob and fuel to target and burn the S-6 coach carrying Kar Sevaks. The SIT had identified and arrested the 31 people convicted today as a core team that planned the attack. The SIT's conspiracy theory claimed that these 31 people held meetings, planned to target the train when it reached Godhra station and that they burnt the coach.
A mob of around 1,000 people had attacked the S-6 coach of the train at the Godhra station on that February day in 2002. The death of 59 people triggered the worst communal riots in the history of Independent India. Close to 1,200 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in these riots in Gujarat.
Chief Minister Narendra Modi had made statements calling the Godhra incident a "pre-planned massacre". He was accused of making those statements to create an anti-Muslim sentiment in the state.
Initial police investigations indicated that it could have been a spontaneous riot situation, but the Special Investigation Team (SIT) later said the act was pre-planned. There were allegations that investigations were biased both in the Godhra case and in the Gujarat riots cases, and the Supreme Court finally ordered another SIT investigation in 2008, this time under RK Raghavan. On Godhra, this SIT too endorsed the findings of the earlier SIT.
(Watch: RK Raghavan on Godhra verdict)
Trial in the case began in June 2009 with the framing of the charges against the accused, who have been in Sabarmati jail since 2002. All the accused in the case have been charged with criminal conspiracy and murder.
After completion of the hearing last September, the verdict could not be given as there was a Supreme Court stay on it. This stay was lifted on October 26, 2010.
Security is tight in Gujarat. Special State Reserve Police Force personnel have been deployed in sensitive cities of Gujarat, particularly in communally sensitive places in Godhra and Ahmedabad.
(Reactions on Godhra verdict: Congress | BJP)