This Article is From Mar 01, 2011

Godhra case: 11 get death sentence, life terms for 20

Ahmedabad: Eleven people have been sentenced to death for their role in setting a compartment of the Sabarmati Express on fire in February, 2002. Another 20 people have been sentenced to life in prison.

Fifty nine passengers died in the attack at the Godhra train station near Ahmedabad. Bogey S-6 was packed with kar sevaks returning from a trip to Ayodhya. The Godhra tragedy provoked communal riots across Gujarat - 1,200 people were killed, most of them Muslims.

Earlier this month, the court hearing the case - set up in the Sabarmati Central Jail for security reasons - found 31 people guilty on charges that ranged from criminal conspiracy to attempt to murder. Sixty three others were acquitted.

Those convicted were described as a "core committee" that organised a mob of nearly 1,000 people and more than 100 litres of petrol to set the train on fire.

On February 22, while delivering his verdict, Judge PR Patel accepted that the Godhra attack was a planned conspiracy and not a spontaneous riot - which has always been the argument of Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Those who planned and executed the Godhra fire include Razzak Kurkur, in whose guesthouse the conspiracy was allegedly birthed; Haji Bilal, who obstructed firefighters from reaching the burning coach, and Irfan Kalandar, who carried petrol into compartment S-6.

"They were weeping when the sentence was pronounced," said IM Munshi, who represents many of those sentenced.

Defense lawyers are planning to appeal against Judge PR Patel's verdict and sentence. A large part of their arguments will rest on the fact that Maulvi Umarji, a cleric from Godhra, who was shortlisted by two different sets of investigators as the mastermind of the Sabarmati Express fire, has been acquitted for lack of evidence.