High Court verdict on Godhra castigates the state govt.

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The Gujarat riots in 2002 were the worst communal violence in Indian history. The  then Prime Minister, Attal Bihari Vajpayee, bluntly  told the then Chief Minister of the state, Narendra Modi that he forgot his ‘Raj Dharam’ because he miserably failed to control  the situation and restore peace. After the defeat of the BJP in 2004, Vajpayee said, but for the Gujarat violence, the BJP could have won the elections. A petition was filed by a victim of the violence that the Chief Minister was linked to the conspiracy of  the riots. However, the court rejected the plea of  Zakia Jafferi, the wife of the former MP Ehsan Jafferi who was killed in a mob massacre during the riots. The cause of these riots was the burning of a coach of Sabarmati Express at Godhara station on  February 27.   The special SIT court that conducted the  trial of the  accused charged with the  burning of the coach convicted 31 accused on March 1, 2011 and acquitted 63 sentencing 11 with  capital punishment and 20 others with lifer. Neither the prosecution nor the accused were satisfied with the judgment of trial court and approached the Gujarat High Court and  the court announced its verdict on October 9.

The High Court endorsed the lower court judgment, but commuted the death sentence of 11 accused to life in jail. More  than two years  after the hearing was completed,  the High  Court division bench of Justices A S  Dave  and G R Udhwani pronounced the  verdict. Some quarters have  found  fault  with the  High  Court for commuting  the death sentence to life imprisonment arguing that the crime  was of  a serious nature and 59 passengers mostly Karsevaks coming from Ayodhya  were burnt to death and the trial court rightly sentenced them to capital  punishment. There are two aspects  of  Godhra tragedy and the commissions set up to probe into the  burning of the coach came  to two opposite conclusions. The Nanawati commission appointed by the government said there was a criminal conspiracy behind the crime while the other inquiry ordered by the railways department said it was accidental. The trial court as well as the High Court concurred with the conspiracy theory. The whole story covered the torching of the coach and the  communal  riots that followed it and claimed 1200 lives mostly of minority Muslims. The unofficial figure crossed 2000 deaths in the violence that  continued for about 2 months. Keeping these facts in view the High Court held that the state  government had failed in discharging its  duty in  maintaining  law and  order. The state government was roundly condemned not only on national level but also globally and even the  entry of Narendra Modi into the US was banned.

Some quarters are asking the  government to  go for  appeal after commutation  of death  sentence  to life imprisonment, but after  the  lapse of 15 years, there  is no wisdom  to prolong the  case further.   The matter better be left to the wisdom of the High Court.

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