|Abdul Razzak (left) and Abdul Sattar, two of the 11 convicts, given death sentence in the Godhra case. (PTI)
Ahmedabad, March 1: Eleven people including a former councillor were today given the death sentence in the Godhra train fire case while the remaining 20 convicts were handed life terms.
The sentences caused several of the convicts — mostly petty criminals, tea vendors and the like, according to sources in Godhra — to break down inside the Ahmedabad courtroom.
In Godhra town, the families of the 31 staged street protests against the 63 people acquitted in the case seven days ago, including prime accused Maulvi Umarji, accusing them of using their influence to escape conviction.
The highest number of death sentences awarded in a single case by an Indian trial court is 26. These came in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case but the Supreme Court upheld only four. Twelve were sentenced to hang in the 1993 Bombay blasts case.
Judge P.R. Patel today labelled the Godhra crime rarest of the rare. He had earlier ruled that the convicts had conspired and torched coach S6 of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra station on February 27, 2002, burning alive 59 kar sevaks and provoking riots that killed 1,200 in Gujarat.
Defence lawyer I.M. Munshi said all the convicts would appeal against the guilty verdict, which he described as improper and difficult to swallow.
He said the defence would expose inconsistencies in the prosecutions conspiracy theory (accepted by the trial court), based on statements of questionable witnesses and mentioned only in the second chargesheet, filed four months after the train fire.
Special public prosecutor J.M. Panchal, who had demanded death for all the convicts, said the special investigation team that probed the case would decide whether to challenge the life terms.
As TV channels flashed the news, the convicts family members in Godhra gathered outside the home of Umarji and some of the others who were acquitted and shouted slogans. The mob also marched around the towns minority-dominated localities of Signal Falia and Juhapura.
The convicts families alleged that Umarji and Mohammed Kalota, another key accused and former Godhra municipality president, had wriggled out using their influence while leaving the protesters loved ones in the lurch.
Mukhtar Ahmed, a rights activist who works with Umarji, said the peoples reaction was expected and claimed the mob had gathered before the Maulvis home because he was a community leader.
A local Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader in Godhra, Rajendra Tiwari, said some tension was expected after the verdict. Businesses voluntarily shut down in the town today as a precaution.
Among those awarded death are former Godhra councillor Bilal Haji and Abdul Razak Mohammad Kurkur, owner of the Aman Guesthouse near Godhra railway station where the conspiracy is said to have been hatched.
The others are: Ramjani Binyamin Behra, Hasan Ahmed Charkha alias Lalu, Jabir Binyamin Behra, Mehboob Khalid Chanda, Salman Yusuf Sattar Zarda alias Salim, Siraj Mohammad Abdul Meda alias Bala, Irfan Abdul Majid Ganchi Kalandar alias Irfan Bhopo, Irfan Mohammad Hanifabdul Gani Pataliya and Mehbub Ahmed Yusuf Hasan alias Latiko.
It was not immediately clear why some had been sentenced to death and the rest awarded life terms.