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Published in the 16-28 Feb 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Gujarat round up

No cheer for Godhra fire accused

By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani, Ahmedabad

The Milli Gazette Online

Even after the Banerjee report more than a 100 people still face charges under POTA

The UC Banerjee report may not bring cheers for Godhra fire accused. Nothing changes for them. More than a 100 people still face charges under Pota. For them the UC Banerjee report calling the Godhra incident an ‘accident’ brings little relief. Yet the report does matter. 

Senior lawyer and human rights activist Girish Patel told that after the Banerjee report findings, the Sangh Parivar’s conspiracy theory and justifications for engineering an anti-minority pogrom "fall flat".

Of the 131 people booked for the Godhra carnage, 104 are already in custody while charge sheets have been filed against 92 people. Currently, the supreme court has stayed proceedings till it decides on a petition seeking the transfer of about a dozen Godhra related cases outside Gujarat.

Legal experts say this report and others by various fact-finding committees cannot have any impact on criminal court proceedings. "The commission of Inquiries Act provision, itself stipulates that the findings of such panel should not influence any proceeding in a criminal court," says eminent lawyer Girish Patel. "The Pota court will have to go by the chargesheet and the supporting proofs provided by the prosecuting agency."

Legal experts are at pains to point out that two contradictory reports about the carnage coupled with the accused persons’ charge that Gujarat police is biased against them may put moral pressure on the prosecution case. 

Reports, carried by credible authorities can help shape public opinion. While no version of events may ever become acceptable to everyone, the UC Banerjee report and the Nanavati-Shah Commission might finally answer a lot of questions satisfactorily, if not completely.

The Banerjee Committee report may strengthen the arguments of a petition in the apex court demanding a CBI inquiry into the Godhra incident, according to lawyers like Mukul Sinha. "The Banerjee Committee report is not binding on the Supreme Court, but it can have a persuasive value," says Sinha of the Jan Sangharsh Manch-an NGO’s collective that is fighting the Gujarat government’s version of events. He adds that the Supreme Court might even decide to entrust an independent body to mark a de novo investigation into the episode.

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