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Judge inspects Godhra coach
September 15, 2004 16:15 IST
The U C Banerjee committee, appointed by the Centre to investigate the exact cause of the fire inside the S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express, visited the Godhra railway station on Wednesday, to gather 'first hand' report of the mishap.
The train was set on fire and 59 kar sevaks were killed on February 27, 2002.
Justice Banerjee, a former Supreme Court judge, assisted by fire, mechanical and technical experts, conducted inspections, took samples from the interiors of the charred coach and questioned railway officials on various aspects of the incident.
The judge later told reporters that the committee, formed under the Railways Act, first aimed to "understand what had actually happened inside the S-6 coach and how the fire had begun."
The technical experts also sought various details about the functioning of the vacuum brake pipe of the train and all chain pulling features that were responsible for its halt just before the ill-fated coach caught fire.
The team also stopped a train coming from Vadodara, got onboard and after taking it near the spot of the incident cross-checked various details of stone-pelting that had occurred on the S-6 coach.
Asked if technical experts would be able to discover anything as the incident was two-and-half-years old, Justice Banerjee said they would first inspect the coach, take samples and then decide after their probe.
He, however, refused to comment when asked if he would consider or look into the evidence gathered by the Gujarat police's Special Investigating Team and other agencies of the state government.
The committee was given three months to submit their findings into the incident.
Later speaking at Vadodara airport after winding up his first visit, Justice Banerjee said it would be difficult to say when he would submit the report as the 'magnitude of the case' had to be taken into consideration.
"The term of the committee is for three months, but it can be extended after learning about the magnitude of the case," he said.
The committee was formed at the behest of Union Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav to conduct a probe into the cause of the fire.
The decision evoked sharp reactions from the Bharatiya Janata Party which billed it as an attempt to dilute the ongoing litigation and give the accused an escape route.
The BJP was particularly critical of the terms of reference of the committee in which one of the points was to examine why the train was overcrowded and whether the passengers' behaviour had anything to do with the fire.
The Gujarat government had set up a two-member committee comprising retired high court judges Justice G T Nanavati and Justice K G Shah to probe the incident and the consequent communal riots.
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