The Supreme Court Tuesday declined to restrain a special fast track court in Gujarat from pronouncing its verdict Feb 19 in the 2002 Godhra train carnage in which 59 people were killed.
The apex court bench of Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice B.S. Chauhan said that “after asking the trial court to proceed with the trial, how are we justified in again asking the trial court to stay its proceedings”.
The carnage relates to coach S-6 of the Sabarmati Express which was allegedly set ablaze at Godhra railway station Feb 27, 2002, killing 59 people.
The Supreme Court has concluded hearing on a petition by Sardarji Maganji Vaghela challenging the findings of the central POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) Review Committee headed by Justice S.C. Jain which had held that the accused in the Godhra train carnage could not be charged under POTA.
Vaghela is related to one of the victims killed in the Godhra train incident.
Senior counsel Sushil Kumar, who appeared for Vaghela, tried to impress upon the court that it should first pronounce its verdict without waiting for the judgment of the trial court.
Sushil Kumar said that once the additional sessions judge (ASJ), special fast track court, pronounces the verdict in the case there will be nothing left for the apex court to say.
Senior counsel Shanti Bhushan, who appeared for accused, said the pronouncement of verdict by the trial court had nothing to do with the judgment of the apex court in the POTA case.
Bhushan said that the accused in the case have already undergone nine years in incarceration and five of them have died during the course of trial.
“If this case was to be remanded back to the POTA court then there will be no end to the agony of the accused as everything will have to start from the point at which it was transferred from the POTA court to the ASJ, special fast track court,” the senior counsel pointed out.
The POTA Review Committee headed by Justice Jain was set up to review all the POTA cases in western Indian states following the passage of POTA Repeal Act.
Justice Jain committee held that people accused of Godhra train carnage could not be booked under POTA. This was challenged before the Gujarat High Court which upheld the findings of the committee.
The trial is against 104 accused, 86 of whom are lodged in Sabarmati Central jail. A total of 13 accused are on bail and five of them are juveniles.
This is one of the nine cases which were “further” investigated by the apex court appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by former Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director R.K. Raghavan.
After the pronouncement of verdict by the trial court, the apex court will hear the matter March 3.