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Godhra witnesses skip hearing

Ahmedabad, July 16: Only four witnesses showed up as the Nanavati Commission, probing the Godhra and post-Godhra communal violence in the state, began its first phase of hearing in Ahmedabad today .

Witnesses from two police stations — Ellisbridge and Satellite — were to depose today, but only four of them — all from Satellite — trickled into Shahibaug, where the two-member commission of Justice G.T. Nanavati and Justice K.G. Shah began the hearing amid tight security and heavy rainfall.

At least 15 people were expected from Ellisbridge.

Ever since its appointment in March 2002, the commission has witnessed this trend in the 19 riot-hit districts where it conducted hearings.

The commission received 4,500 affidavits, but less than 350 people from across the state have deposed.

Advocate Shailesh Pandya, who represents the VHP, said he had no idea why no one came from Ellisbridge. “I was told that all 15 witnesses will depose. But for unknown reasons, no one has turned up,” Pandya said, adding that the witnesses were to explain how innocent people had been arrested from Ellisbridge.

Triveniben and Bharat Prajapati, deputy sarpanch of Vastrapur, defended the police’s role in controlling violence, while hoteliers Amrish Patel and Maulji Solanki told the commission how the mob had carried out loot and arson.

Patel told the commission that he saw a mob, led by a group sporting saffron bands, torching Millennium Restaurant, owned by a member of the minority community, while the police just stood by. He said he called the police control room but the number was constantly busy.

Solanki said his restaurants — Tasty, Kabir, Abhilasha and Topaz — were set ablaze as he had Muslim business partners.

No one was killed in the communal violence that hit Satellite, but several hotels and restaurants owned by members of the minority community were set on fire, the duo said.

They said they saw an “aggressive Hindu mob torching and looting and the police turning a blind eye”.

Triveniben and Prajapati, on the other hand, were all praise for the police.

Triveniben told the commission that when she saw a violent mob about to attack people and property belonging to the minority community, she requested some people to call up the police. The police promptly reached the spot and saved the lives of some Muslims before the mob could lynch them.

Prajapati claimed that no untoward incident had occurred in Vastrapur, which falls under Satellite police station, because of intense police patrolling.

In response to a question from advocate Mukul Sinha, Justice Nanavati said if he wanted to cross-examine a particular witness, he could do so after requesting the commission. “We would summon that particular person,” he said.

Asked whether he wanted to question some senior BJP leaders, MLAs and ministers, Sinha said he was considering cross-examining some BJP ministers and MLAs who had allegedly instigated the mob.

Sinha, who represents the Jan Sangharsh Manch, a civil rights group, told The Telegraph that he would like to quiz law minister Ashok Bhatt, former home minister Gordhan Zadaphia and a couple of MLAs and former ministers.

In the first phase, which is to end on July 22, the commission will hear cases relating to Vejapur, Navrangpura, Ghatlodia, Sola, Sabarmati and Madhavpura, commission secretary C.G. Patel, secretary, commission of inquiry said.

The cases pertaining to Gulbarg Society and Naroda Patia — two of the worst massacres in the city in which over 130 people were killed — will come up for hearing in the second phase after July 28.

Sinha said arrangements are being made to ensure that all witnesses who have filed affidavits depose before the commission without fear.

A number of NGOs are actively working in co-ordination with other human rights organisations to see to it that riot victims and witnesses give their depositions.

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