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A special court here today convicted 31 accused persons and acquitted 63 others in the case relating to the February 27, 2002 burning of a coach of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra station in Gujarat.

Sessions Judge P R Patel, who delivered the judgement in the Sabarmati Central Jail, said the quantum of punishment would be announced on February 25.

The accused were convicted on charge of murder, conspiracy and destruction of railway property. They were convicted under sections 120 (B), 302, 307, 323, 324, 325, 326, 332, 395, 397, 436 and 153(A) of IPC and section 149 of Railway Act, according to public prosecutor J M Panchal.

Among those acquitted was Maulvi Sayed Umarvi, who was charged as the main conspirator.

Of the total 134 accused in the case, including five juveniles, charges against 13 had been dropped during trial. As many as 16 accused are still absconding and five died during trial.

As many as 59 people, mostly “kar sevaks” returning from Ayodhya, were killed in the fire. The incident had sparked off communal violence across the state, in which more than 1200 peope, mainly from the minority community, were killed.

Tight security arrangements have been made across Gujarat as a precautionary measure.

Initially, a charge sheet was filed invoking the Indian Penal Code (IPC)and the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The Central POTA Review Committee found no basis for invoking charges of terrorism against the accused. This order was upheld by the Gujarat High Court and the Supreme Court, too, did not interfere with the High Court order.

Accordingly, on June 25, 2009, the sessions court framed charges under the IPC. The examination of witnesses began on July 1, 2009.

The trial, held in the Sabarmati jail, was completed in September 2010. The Supreme Court lifted its stay on the pronouncement of verdict on October 26, 2010, facilitating the special judge to pronounce the verdict.

In September 2004, when Mr Lalu Prasad was Railway Minister, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government constituted a committee, headed by the former judge of the Supreme Court, U C Banerjee, to probe the causes of the fire in the Sabarmati Express.

In his report submitted in January 2005, Justice Banerjee said: “The blaze is an accident. There was no possibility of inflammable liquid being used. The fire originated in the coach itself, without external input.”

However, the Justice Nanavati Commission, appointed by the Narendra Modi government to probe the sequence of events that led to the fire, concluded that the fire was not caused by any accident but because of the petrol thrown at it.

In its preliminary report submitted in September 2008, the Nanavati commission said: “The burning of the coach S6 was a pre-planned act. In other words, there was a conspiracy to burn the coach of the Sabarmati Express coming from Ayodhya and to cause harm to the ‘kar sevaks’ travelling in the coach.”

It had said: “All the acts such as procurement of petrol, circulation of false rumour, stopping of the train and entry into coach S6 were in pursuance of the object of conspiracy. The conspiracy hatched by these persons appears part of a larger conspiracy to create terror and destabilise the administration.”

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