The Gujarat government on Monday (February 20) told the Supreme Court that it would press for death penalty for 11 convicts whose sentences in the 2002 Godhra train burning case were commuted to life imprisonment by the state’s high court.
A bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala also fixed the bail pleas of several accused in the case for hearing after three weeks. It asked counsel for both sides to file a consolidated chart giving details such as actual sentences awarded to them and the period spent in jail till now.
‘Rarest of rare cases’
“We will be seriously pressing for award of death penalty to the convicts whose death penalties were commuted into life imprisonment (by the Gujarat High Court). This is the rarest of rare cases where 59 people, including women and children, were burnt alive,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Gujarat government, told the bench.
“It is consistent everywhere that the bogey was locked from outside. Fifty nine died, including ladies and children,” he added.
Also read: Accused in 2002 Godhra train burning case gets life imprisonment
Giving details, the law officer said 11 convicts were sentenced to death by the trial court and 20 others granted life term in the case. The high court upheld total 31 convictions in the case and commuted the death penalties of the 11 convicts to life term, Mehta said.
On February 27, 2002, 59 people were killed when the S-6 coach of the train was burnt at Gujarat’s Godhra, triggering riots in the state.
Appeal against commutation of death penalty to life term
“The state government has come in appeal against the commutation of death penalty into life term for 11 convicts,” Mehta said. “Several accused,” he added, “have filed pleas against the high court upholding their convictions in the case.”
The top court has granted bail to two convicts in the case so far. Seven other bail pleas are pending adjudication in the matter.
The bench noted that a large number of bail applications have been filed before it in the case and said, “It has been agreed that the AORs (advocate-on records) on behalf of applicants along with advocate Swati Ghildiyal, standing counsel for Gujarat, shall prepare a comprehensive chart with all relevant details. List after three weeks.”
Also read: SC grants bail to 17 convicts in 2002 Sardarpura post-Godhra riots case
On January 30, the Supreme Court sought the Gujarat government’s response on the bail pleas of some convicts sentenced to life imprisonment in the case.
The court issued notice to the state government on the bail pleas of Abdul Raheman Dhantia alias Kankatto, Abdul Sattar Ibrahim Gaddi Asla, and others.
Not merely a stone pelting case: Gujarat govt
The state government, on the other hand, said it was not “merely a stone pelting” case as the convicts had bolted a bogey of the Sabarmati Express, leading to the death of several passengers on the train.
“Some are saying their role was just stone pelting. But when you lock a bogey from outside, light it on fire and then pelt stones, it is not just stone pelting,” the solicitor general had said.
On December 15 last year, the top court granted bail to Faruk, who was serving a life sentence in the case, and noted that he had been in jail for 17 years. Faruk, along with several others, was convicted for pelting stones at a coach of the Sabarmati Express.
(With inputs from agencies)