Ahmedabad: A special court here on Tuesday convicted 31 people and acquitted 63 others, including the main accused Maulvi Umarji, in the Godhra incident of 2002.

The court accepted the theory of conspiracy behind the burning of the coach of Sabarmati Express carrying kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya. It will pronounce the final sentence on February 25, after hearing arguments on the quantum of punishment.

The court acquitted prime accused Maulana Umarji while other prominent accused Haji Billa and Rajjak Kurkur were convicted.

"Special Court judge P R Patel has convicted 31 accused while acquitting 63 others," Public Prosecutor J M Panchal said after the verdict inside the Sabarmati jail.

"On February 25, there will be a hearing on the point of sentence and after that quantum of punishment will be pronounced," Panchal said, adding, "The conspiracy theory has been accepted by the court."

The trial conducted inside the Sabarmati Central Jail here began in June 2009 with the framing of charges against 94 accused in the carnage that had triggered widespread communal riots in Gujarat.

The accused have been charged with criminal conspiracy and murder in burning of the S-6 coach of the train on February 27, 2002 near Godhra, about 125 km from here in which 59 people were killed.

"Petrol was brought and the train was made to stop. Electricity was then cut and there was pouring of huge quantity of petrol and thereafter it was set afire so far as
S-6 coach is concerned," Panchal said replying to a query on prosecution's theory of conspiracy.

Asked whether he would demand death penalty for those convicted in the case, he said, "What will be the stand of prosecution I cannot disclose at this stage but on February 25, I will be making my humble submissions before the honourable court as discharge of my official duty."

On the release of the prime conspirator, he said, "Maulana (Umarje) has been acquitted because the judge found that he is not guilty. The grounds on which he has been acquitted can be said only after reading full text of the judgement." conspirator.

As many as 253 witnesses were examined during the trial and over 1,500 documentary evidences were presented before the court by the Gujarat police. There were a total of 134 accused in the case, out of which 14 were released due to lack of evidence, five were juvenile, five died during proceedings of over nine years.

The trial was conducted against 94 accused, and 16 are still absconding. Of the 94, against whom the trial was conducted 80 are in jail and 14 are out on bail.

Two panels appointed


Two different panels appointed to inquire into the 2002 case had given different views on the Godhra train burning incident.

The Nanavati Commission, appointed by the Gujarat government to probe the carnage, had in the first part of the report concluded that the fire in the S-6 coach was not an accident, but it was caused by throwing petrol inside it.

"The burning of the coach S-6 was a pre-planned act. In other words there was a conspiracy to burn the coach of the train coming from Ayodhya and to cause harm to the 'karsevaks' travelling in it," the report submitted to the government in September 2008 had said.

The Railway Ministry under Lalu Prasad Yadav had appointed one-man U C Banerjee Commission which had said that fire was "accidental".

BJP welcomes verdict

 Speaking to reporters, BJP spokesman Ravishankar Prasad said, "Certainly, there has been a degree of assurance that law and justice has prevailed. There were elements who were trying to belittle it. There have been politicians who tried to abuse it."

Further, slamming the Justice U C Banerjee Committee report, he said, "You remember the Banerjee commission report. A retired judge of Supreme Court gave a collusive report that the fire was lit from inside."

Asked about the acquittal of one of the prime accused Maulana Umraji, he said, "Conspiracy has been established."

Other BJP spokesperson Tarun Vijay said, "This has exposed the nefarious designs of the UPA government which tried to cover up the entire ghastly episode."

He said, "It has exposed the so-called secularists including Lalu, UPA government which had set up a fake inquiry under a retired SC judge, which put the blame on victims themselves. This verdict has to be welcomed initially."

Gujarat Govt stand vindicated: Vyas

Reacting to the Godhra verdict, state government spokesperson Jaynarayan Vyas said that Gujarat government's stand on the carnage that it was a pre-planned conspiracy is vindicated.

"The judgement has established that this was a pre-planned conspiracy hatched and executed with finesse, so the state government's stand is vindicated," Vyas told
reporters here.

"The judgement today sets at naught all the wrong propaganda of the so called NGOs that Godhra train burning incident was not a pre-planned conspiracy," he said, adding that the government will decide on its future course of action after studying the judgement.

The Godhra train burning incident which left 59 people dead and triggered violence in Gujarat had claimed the lives of over 1200 people, mainly Muslims.

Cong declines comment

Meanwhile, Congress on Tuesday declined to comment on the special court's verdict on Godhra case, saying it is "not aware of the content of the judgement".

The party, however, blamed Gujarat CM Narendra Modi for triggering post-Godhra communal riots that left over 1,200 people dead.

Speaking with reporters outside the Parliament House, Congress spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan said, "We are not aware of the content of the judgment...First we have to study the judgement."

Natarajan said the communal violence that followed the train carnage was a "blot on democracy".

Reacting to BJP's claim that the judgement vindicated the party's stand that the train was set on fire from outside, she said, "It still does not take away the fact that
Modi and his government were single handedly responsible for the riots that took place post the train carnage."

(Agencies)

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