The High court observed that the state government and railways had failed to maintain law and order, and directed them to pay compensation to the kin of victims.
Coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express was torched on February 27, 2002 near the Godhra station, resulting in the death of 59 people, most of them ‘karsevaks’ returning from Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.
The incident triggered communal riots across Gujarat, in which around 1,200 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.
A division bench of Justices Anant S Dave and G R Udhwani said in Monday’s verdict that it was upholding the conviction of the 11 persons whom the trial court had sentenced to death, but commuting their punishment to “rigorous life imprisonment”.
The court also upheld the life sentence awarded by the special SIT court to 20 other convicts.
While ordering the state and the railways to pay a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the kin of those killed in the Godhra incident, the high court observed that “the state has failed to maintain law and order, so has the railways”.
Those injured in the incident should be given compensation as per the disabilities they suffered, the court said.
The division bench also said that it regrets the delay in pronouncement of the judgement, as hearing on appeals had concluded much earlier.
The high court relied on the testimonies of injured witnesses, passengers, railway employees, Railway Protection Force personnel, two policemen from Godhra, the Gujarat railway police, experts from forensic laboratories and also the confessional statements.
The court rejected the appeals filed by the special investigation team (SIT) against the acquittal of 63 people, and also its appeals seeking enhancement of sentences. The court also rejected the appeals against conviction.
The special SIT court had on March 1, 2011 convicted 31 people and acquitted 63 others in the case. While 11 people were sentenced to death, 20 were awarded life imprisonment by the lower court.
The lower court had accepted the prosecution’s contention that there was a conspiracy behind the incident.
All the 31 were convicted under IPC sections related to murder, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy.
Those acquitted included prime accused Maulana Umarji, then president of Godhra municipality Mohammad Hussain Kalota, Mohammad Ansari and Nanumiya Chaudhary of Gangapur in Uttar Pradesh.
The Justice Nanavati Commission, appointed by the Gujarat government to probe the carnage, had concluded that the fire in the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express was not an accident, but the coach had been set ablaze.