Godhra verdict travesty of justice: Prashant Bhushan (Second Lead)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

NEW DELHI - Prominent Supreme Court lawyer and public interest activist Prashant Bhushan Tuesday said the verdict in the Godhra train carnage case coming nine years after the incident was a “travesty of justice”.

“It is a travesty of justice. I understand most of the 63 persons let off today were denied bail and spent all these nine years behind the bars,” Bhushan told IANS Tuesday, soon after the verdict.

“While I will wait for the details of the judgment to make any further comment, it is a sad commentary on the delays of the judicial system that such a long wait had to be made for a verdict.

“Who will compensate for the loss of their valuable years of life? What has the government to say about the difficulties and defamation faced by the acquitted persons and their families,” he asked.

Bhushan said the verdict cannot be considered the final word in the case as the convicted people can move the higher courts.

One of the key accused Maulvi Saeed Umarji’s son Saeed Umarji said the judgment had strengthened his faith in the judiciary.

“The way he was kept in jail for eight years, it was a big injustice. Our confidence in judiciary has been strengthened by the special court’s judgment,” he said.

Tuesday morning, a special court headed by Ahmedabad Additional Sessions Judge P.R. Pate convicted 31 people but acquitted 63 in the Godhra train carnage case in which 59 people, mostly ‘kar sevaks’ returning from Ayodhya on the Sabarmati Express, were burnt to death Feb 27, 2002, triggering communal riots in Gujarat.

According to the chargesheet filed in the case, an unidentified mob of around 900 to 1,000 people attacked the train near Godhra railway station Feb 27, 2002.

The incident, which was labelled as a conspiracy, triggered state-wide communal violence, in which over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

Noted civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad told IANS: An extremely old man was put in jail, a boy who is 99 percent blind was in jail without bail… somewhere these are ethical questions that will remain for the criminal justice system.”

As far as the conspiracy theory is concerned, one will have to see on what grounds the conspiracy has been upheld, she said.

“Has it been upheld for the accused that Gujarat government made out or the absconding accused? Was it a cross-border conspiracy as the chief minister claimed on Feb 27, 2002, Setalvad asked.

However, Ranji Thomas, another noted lawyer, said: “The verdict should be looked at a legal angle alone and no one should politicise the case.

“Only thing I can say is this was a highly discussed case in the judicial and public circles. And today’s verdict should not be considered as the final, as the convicts can go in appeal to higher courts,” he said.

He pointed out that the Godhra incident had been dealt by more than one commission and court.

Thomas, who is also a secretary of the All India Congress Committee (AICC), said that he was speaking only in the role of a lawyer and not as a politician.

“Everyone - lawyers, politicians and others - should approach the case as a judicial issue and not a political issue.

“From a human angle, I want to say that violence has no religion, colour or political affiliation. Nobody should justify it in courts or outside”, he said.

R.K. Raghavan, chief of the special investigation team (SIT) which probed the Gujarat violence cases, said: “Since the Section 20 (B) of IPC (Indian Penal Code) has been upheld in the case, conspiracy theory has been vindicated.”

“But for finer details, I may have to look at the judgment, Raghavan said.

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