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  Godhra carnage report – height of absurdity  


By: Ganesh Sovani
January 18, 2005
(Writer is senior criminal lawyer from Thane, Maharashtra, India and he is also engaged in freelance writing for almost two decades having an authority on scores of issues. He can be contacted at

Nothing can be termed as ‘utterly ludicrous’ for the manner in which the findings of the retired supreme court justice U.C. Banner commission’s interim report over the causes of Godhra carnage, have been released to the media in New Delhi on Tuesday. It may be recalled, that fifty-four karsevaks returning from Ayodhaya (UP) were charred to death on the fateful morning of 27th February, 2002 in coach no. S – 7 of Sabarmati Express in which they were travelling and returning home.

The commission’s conclusion that compartment caught fire due to an accident taking place inside the coach and that it was not set ablaze from outside is nothing but the height of absurdity. It is not a sheer coincidence that commission’s interim report was made public barely fifteen days ahead, when the first phase of assembly elections in Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana gets underway.

The very motive of setting up such kind of commission to be headed by a retired judge of India’s apex court, when the Special POTA court at Panchmahal has already taken a cognizance of the matter and the significant progress has made by Nanavati commission, smacks a political conspiracy, on the part of not only the railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, but also on the part of the UPA headed chairman Sonia Gandhi to garner the minority votes in the ensuing three state assembly elections. The haste, with which the commission released an interim report, when its term is schedule to expire on 3rd March, 2005 needs to be deplored.

As a railway minister, Laloo Yadav made an announcement of setting up of commission to enquire into Godhra incident on 26th of August, 2004 from Patna, which is home city. Couple of weeks prior to that, i.e. on 6th June, 2004 to be more precise, the director general of RPF (Railway Protection Force) is believed to have telephonically contacted M.S.Dahiya, the director of Gujarat’s forensic laboratory and asked the latter to call on the railway minister in Delhi in connection with the Godhra incident. According to a report, even Laloo Yadav is believed to have phoned Dahiya from Patna on 6th June and had ordered Gujarat civil servant to see in Delhi at the earliest. The motive of such calls was already clear. That is to find out the evidence commensurate with the predetermined out come of the probe, that is to say that the incident was an accident and not the conspiracy.

The BJP had initially taken a strong exception to this gesture of the railway minister of summoning Dahiya to Delhi and had openly demanded that the Nanavati commission (in retaliation?) should also summon Laloo Yadav for his over zealous act. However, the BJP neglected to pursue the matter in the wake of rumbling within the party which had occurred due to various reasons.

If at all the railway minister was so keen in appointing his own ministry’s commission to enquire a three year old incident, then he could have very well appointed one under section 114 of the Indian Railways Act – 1952 to find out, (1) whether the railway staff attached to Godhra railway station acted promptly after the compartment caught fire, (2) whether it had properly utilized the fire fighting machinery to douse the fire, (3) how quickly the affected passengers were rescued from the fire and (4) to what extent the damage had been caused to railway property, due to the incident.

The very setting up of such kind of commission with a pre-determined ‘accident’ angle in a way, undermines the criminal proceedings initiated by Gujarat Police under the POTA. This is a case, where the railway ministry has completely encroached upon the criminal justice system in Gujarat and also upon that of functioning of the Nanavati commission.

Gujarat police were initially groping in dark over the whole affair. However, they could get substantial number of leads after the arrest of one of the conspirators, Zaheer Bin Yamin Behra who is believed to have given a confessional statement before the local magistrate and had completely revealed the entire operation.

Behra’s arrest followed by his judicial confession, enable the police to arrest a septuagenarian cleric Maulavi Hussein Hajji Abraham Umarji about his complicity in the crime. Subsequent investigation revealed that he was the brain behind the entire episode.

The police were originally confused about the precise cause of the fire and whether it caused from inside or the compartment was set ablaze from outside. However, cut marks caused due to choppers on the PVC canopy made between the two compartments enabled the police to conclude, that miscreants went to the extent of cutting the PVC canopy over the coupling of the two coaches in order to forcibly enter into the coach, as the occupants of the coach had frantically bolted the doors from inside after they noticed a frenzied mob on either side of it.

The moot question lie, as to why a mob of nearly 1,500 people should gather near Godhra railway station at 8 AM on the fateful day, when there was no religious festivity was around. Had Bannerji commission pondered over this point, perhaps it would not have dared to conclude that the cause of the fire was not the conspiracy, but it was fire.

It is interesting to note that the successive bail applications of seventy-two accused have been rejected by the various courts at various levels, as there was sufficient evidence on record about their involvement in the crime. It is interesting to see, that apart from the so called forensic evidence gathered by the commission, who were the persons to whom the commission had enquired. Whether these were the same persons, who had given statements before the police during the investigation and whether they too have deposed before Nanavati commission as well.

The interim report released by the chairman of the commission, retired Justice Bannerji himself in the press conference diminishes the sanctity of the probe and it reveals its childish approach. What was astonishing to note, that when justice Bannerji was grilled by the media, as to what prompted to him to release the interim report few weeks before the Bihar assembly elections, he pleaded that he was unaware of the dates of assembly elections in railway minister’s state. Which persons in this part of the world would believe such claims about his lack knowledge of poll dates?

What is more agonising is that when Justice Bannerji was releasing an interim report before Delhi media; 850 Kms away in Patna, Laloo Yadav was flashing the Hindi translation of the interim report in his maiden election meeting. How could railway minister was able to get a translated version of two part original reports in English, as they were being presented to the media men in Delhi. This is sufficient to conclude that the release of both versions of the interim report of the commission simultaneously at two different places was done with a pre planning, and it can not be termed as a sheer coincidence at all.

It is awful that a leader of a regional political party in Bihar is allowed to take an advantage of happening of a most heinous incident in Western part of India to suit his political ends. And it could not have happened without the tacit approval of UPA chairman Sonia Gandhi.

The release of Bannerji commission’s report is bound to have both electoral as well as political fallouts. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, who as a matter of course, ought to have resigned for his inept handling of post Godhra riots which lasted for forty-three days, could now get a fresh lease of life.

In fact, Congress leadership was repeatedly under pressure from the likes of Shankar Singh Waghela, Ahmed Patel and Gulam Nabi Azad to dethrone Narendra Modi from Gandhi Nagar by making use of Article 356 of Constitution of India, prior to assembly polls in three states. However, with the release of an absurd report, indications have it that Modi would definitely try to consolidate his position on the strength of this report.

The incumbent UPA government has set an extremely bad precedent of circumventing a judicial process of a serious matter, by allowing another commission to simultaneously enquire over the same issue. Sadly, all this is being done at the behest of Laloo Yadav, who is the Frankenstein in making and it will be the Congress which will have to shoulder the blame for it.

Should the Congress party, having a history of hundred and twenty five years kowtow before a regional party simply to retain the power at the Center? Its answer is definitely negative and sooner it realizes it better it will be for the country and for Congress party as well.

Ganesh Sovani

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