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Gujarat HC notice to SIT on admitting Godhra sting op as evidence

Source: PTI
December 29, 2011 21:22 IST
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The Gujarat high court on Thursday issued a notice to the Special Investigation Team on  a petition by a convict sentenced to death in the Godhra train carnage, demanding that additional evidence in form of CDs of a TV sting operation be brought on record.

The notice was issued by a division bench of justices DH Waghela and NV Anjaria, which is also hearing the appeals of all those convicted in the Godhra train burning case of February 2002. The Supreme Court-appointed SIT has been asked to file its reply by January 23.

In his plea, Salim Zarda, awarded death penalty along with 10 others, has sought the examination of journalist Ashish Khaitan who carried out the sting operation in 2007.

He also requested the high court to direct the Central Bureau of Investigation to furnish documents establishing the authenticity of the CD of the sting operation. The CBI had conducted a probe in the October 2007 expose after the National Human Rights Commission took suo motu cognizance of the issue.

The Forensic Science Laboratory, Jaipur, has concluded that the CDs containing recording of the sting operation were authentic, Zarda said.

According to Zarda's counsel Somnath Vats, revelations in the sting operation explains why two witnesses, who were working at the Kalubhai petrol pump from where the alleged petrol used to set ablaze the train was bought, turned up to make statements one year after the incident.

Zarda contended that if this evidence was not brought on record, it would cause prejudice to him.

Zarda pointed out that the SIT, which investigated the train carnage, had taken the CDs of the same sting operation as evidence in the post-Godhra Gulburg and Naroda Patiya riot cases which were also probed by the apex court-appointed agency.

He claimed that bringing this piece of evidence on record was a due process of law and would not cause any prejudice to the verdict delivered by the trial court on March 1 this year.

The trial court in August last year had rejected an application to summon Khaitan and denied permission to examine him as a defence witness. Designated Judge P R Patel, who heard the application, had observed that the sting operation was not an admissible evidence.

Fifty-nine passengers, mostly kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya, were burnt alive when the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express was set ablaze near Godhra station on February 27, 2002. Following this, large-scale communal violence erupted in the state that resulted in nearly 1,200 deaths.

A special court in March convicted 31 persons in the train burning case and awarded death sentence to 11 of them. Twenty others were sentenced to life, while 63 accused acquitted.

One of the reasons for the severe punishment was the court's conclusion that petrol was procured as part of a conspiracy to burn the train coach.
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