Salim Yusuf Zarda, given death penalty by the special trial court in March 2011, submitted his letter in form of an application through his counsel before a Division Bench of Justices A S Dave and Gokani.

In his plea to Chief Justice Bhaskar Bhattacharya, he said hearing of appeal filed by him should not be conducted before Justice Gokani as she had also presided over trial in the case under POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act).

Gokani presided over a special POTA court, which handled the train burning case, between 2003 and 2008 after which she was elevated to the Gujarat High Court. After 2008, another judge heard the case and gave the verdict in 2011.

She had sent him to police custody and rejected his bail application on different occasions, the convict said.

As trial court judge, Gokani went through the opinion of POTA Review Committee in 2006 and later rejected a police report seeking discharge of a few accused in the case under CrPC Section 169 (release of accused when evidence deficient), the letter said.

Defence counsel S M Vatsa moved the application before the bench, which fixed September 2 for next hearing since the letter is pending for consideration of the Chief Justice.

The High Court has started final hearing on appeals of the convicts against the verdict and also the state's plea seeking enhancement of punishment of some of those found guilty.

The court will also hear an application filed by the convicts who sought to place video footage of a sting operation by 'Tehelka' as additional evidence in the case.

The footage, aired in 2007, purportedly showed how witnesses in the case allegedly gave false statements on instructions of prosecution to establish the conspiracy angle.

Accepting the theory of criminal conspiracy behind the burning of S6 coach of Sabarmati Express near Godhra on February 27, 2002, the trial court gave death penalty to 11 accused and life term to 20 others.

Special Judge P R Patel had acquitted 63 accused for want of evidence against them in the carnage, which had triggered widespread communal riots in Gujarat.


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