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2006: A year of reckoning for Gujarat
Avinash Nair in Ahmedabad | December 26, 2006 10:29 IST
The ghosts of post-Godhra riots of 2002 continued to haunt Gujarat as the state police decided to re-open more than 1,500 riot cases and the POTA court sentenced three accused in the Akshardham terrorist attack case to the gallows in 2006.
The police, under pressure from the Supreme Court, decided to re-open 1,594 cases and initiate action against 41 police officials for their alleged 'mishandling' of riots.
Police also decided to arrest about 600 persons accused in these cases and re-open 13 new cases related to the communal frenzy that rocked Gujarat after 59 people were burnt alive in Sabarmati Express at Godhra on Feb 27, 2002.
Gujarat police has been accused of trying to hush up many of the post-Godhra riot cases citing lack of evidence against the accused.
The Supreme Court had taken a stern stance in the matter and directed the Gujarat government to re-examine the 2,000-odd closed cases. It also constituted a 10-member riots inquiry committee, which was asked to look at these cases.
One of the most important court verdicts in Gujarat came on July 1 when the designated POTA court awarded death penalty to three persons in the high-profile Akshardham terrorist attack case of September 24, 2003.
Describing the case as rarest of rare, POTA judge Sonia Gokani held the trio, 'directly responsible' for the killing of 30-odd persons by two armed Lashkar-e-Tayiba militants who stormed a crowded Akshardham temple in Gandhingar and opened fire.
The court also awarded lifer to a fourth accused in this case, while two others got punishment of 10 and five years rigorious imporisonement respectively.
The verdict has been challenged in the Gujarat High Court in November.
Also in November, the POTA court sentenced three persons to rigorous imprisonment in the Memco bomb blast case of August 6, 2002, which took place after the post-Godhra riots and the third accused was sentenced to five years RI
Earlier, on May 12, the same POTA court sentenced five persons to ten years rigorous imprisonment in another tiffin bomb blast case in which crude bombs kept hidden in tiffin boxes exploded inside Ahmedabad Municipal Transport Service buses at several places on May 29, 2002.
Meanwhile, the hearing of the Nanavati-Shah Commission probing the Sabarmati train carnage and the post-Godhra riots entered the final phase.
Earlier this year, the Commission tried to avail copies of letters written by the then president K R Narayanan to prime minister A B Vajpayee advising speedy deployment of troops in the riot-stricken Gujarat in 2002.
However, the letters never made its way to the Commission as both Rashtrapati Bhavan and UPA government cited President's privilege while refusing to divulge the letters.
The inquiry panel kept communicating with the U C Banerjee Committee, constituted by the Railway Ministry to probe the cause of fire on Sabarmati Express, to submit its findings published in the committee's interim report.
The committee, in its final report, said the fire in the train was 'accidental'.
On October 13, the Gujarat High court quashed and set aside the appointment of Banerjee Committee and termed it as 'unconstitutional, illegal and void'.
The court observed that the setting up of Banerjee Committee violates provisions of Commissions of Inquiry Act and Indian Railways Act because one Commission (Justice Nanavati-Shah Commission) was already probing the matter.
Almost a year after mass graves were unearthed by the relatives of riot victims killed in Panderwada massacre in Panchmahal district, the High Court on December 8 dismissed a petition requesting a CBI probe in the case.
The petition was dismissed after CBI (which had conducted the DNA tests of the skeletal remains found in the graves) did not approach the court seeking re-investigation.