Godhra Verdict: Explaining the delay
This article originally appeared in centreright.in. CRI content has now been subsumed in swarajyamag.com. The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of swarajyamag.com

Justice delayed ? or Bhagwan ke ghar mein der hai andher nahin?

Post the Godhra special courts judgement on the Sabarmati Express train burning case I wanted to comment on the criticism leveled by the usual suspects concerning the ‘undue delay’ in delivering justice. I ask to be forgiven for drawing attention to the possibility that a single mention of the victims of the case made to wait for almost a decade for justice is yet to be found.

In any case what caused the delays? Here’s a timeline of the case:

  • Feb 27th 2002 – Around 8.00 AM the S-6 Coach was torched leading to a death of 59 passengers
  • Feb 28th 2002 – FIR has been filed against 1500 People
  • Mar 3rd 2002 – Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance has been invoked against those arrested for the Godhra Train Burning case. POTA was an Ordinance before becoming an act
  • Mar 6th 2002 – Gujarat Govt appoints a commission to probe the Godhra Incident and and Post Godhra Riots under the commission of Inquiry act headed by KG Shah to complete the report and submit within 3 months. After some time and opposition from political parties Retired Justice Nanavati was appointed to be part of the commission on May 22nd 2002 – Time Check – 3 Months wasted only to change the panel.
  • Mar 9th 2002 – Police include IPC section 120B (Criminal conspiracy) against all accused
  • Mar 25th 2002 – POTO suspended on all accused due to pressure from central government (Ruled by NDA)
  • May 27th 2002 – First charge-sheet filed against 54 accused. (Not under POTA)
  • Jul 18th 2002 – Gujarat assembly dissolved for elections
  • Sep 21st 2002 – Akshardham Attack
  • Dec 12th 2002 – Polling for Gujarat Assembly
  • Dec 15th 2002 – BJP returns to power under Narendra Modi
  • Feb 18th 2003 – POTA re-invoked against the accused
  • Nov 21st 2003 – Supreme Court stays judicial proceedings against all riot related cases including Godhra Train burning. Time Check18 months have gone after the first charge-sheet. Some of it thanks to NGO activists like Teesta Setalvad from CJP
  • Till May 2004 – Nation moves into general election mode and ruling NDA lost and UPA 1.0 Govt formed with MMS as the Prime Minister of India
  • Sep 4th 2004 – U C Banerjee heads a committee to probe into the train burning case after the then railway minister Lalu Prasad Yadav asks for it
  • Sep 17th 2004 – POTA repealed by UPA 1.0 Govt
  • Sep 21st 2004 – As POTA has been repealed, there is a decision taken to review the POTA charges against the accused
  • Jan 17th 2005 – Justice U C Banerjee submits a report suggesting the fire in S-6 was an accident ( Just a curious coincidence that elections to Bihar assembly where Lalooji’s party was also contesting were to be held in February 2005)
  • May 16th 2005 – POTA Review committee gives its opinion not to charge accused under POTA given – Time Check3 Precious Years gone from the first charge-sheet was filed
  • Oct 13th 2006 – Gujarat HC rules that the formation of UC Banerjee Committee was set up illegally, in violation of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 which prohibits the setting up of separate commissions by state and central governments to probe a matter of public importance
  • December 2007 – Narendra Modi wins the state assembly elections and comes back to power
  • Mar 26th 2008 – Supreme Court Constitutes Special Investigation Team (SIT) to investigate Godhra Train burning case and eight other post-godhra riots – Time Check Almost 4 years and 10 Months passed away after the first charge-sheet was filed, again thanks to CJP and Teestaji, the Supreme Court and POTA review.
  • Sep 18th 2008 – Nanavati Commission report submits its report on Godhra Train burning incident and says it was a pre-planned conspiracy
  • Feb 12th 2009 – Gujarat HC upholds POTA review committee decision that the act cannot be applied
  • May 1st 2009 – Supreme Court lifts the stay on Godhra train and all othercases after it finds SIT has made considerable progress – Time Check – Almost 6 years after the Supreme Court Stays the earlier judicial proceedings
  • June 1st 2009 –Finally A fast track trial court starts the proceedings inside the Sabarmati jail premises  – Almost 7 years after the first charge-sheet is filed
  • Mar 25th 2010 – Narendra Modi is questioned by SIT
  • May 6th 2010 – Again the Supreme Court restrains trial courts not to pronounce judgment in the train burning case and other riot cases
  • May 2010 – UPA 2.0 Govt wins back the national elections
  • Set 28th 2010 – Trial Concludes but no pronouncement of judgment due to stay by Supreme Court – Time Check – within 15 months the hearings of witnesses and evidence completed from the start
  • Jan 18th 2011 – Supreme Court lifts the ban on pronouncement of verdict
  • Feb 22nd 2011 – Trial Court Convicts 31 and acquits 63 others

Time Check : 20 Months from Trial start to judgment but almost 9 years after the ghastly attack. In the meantime 5 accused died during the pendency of the case and 8 were tried by a juvenile court as they were under aged. 253 Witnesses examined and 1500 Documentary evidences were presented by Gujarat police to the court.

It is a pity that nobody dares criticize this unacceptable interference with the due process of delivering justice to the victims (and the accused, now convicted or acquitted). I shall leave it to the reader to guess (and that can’t be hard to do given the above time-line) as to who really caused the delay in the prosecution and what their motivations were.