New Delhi: The Gujarat government on Monday told the Supreme Court that it will press for the death penalty to 11 convicts in the 2002 Godhra train burning case, as it was a ‘rarest of the rare and grave offence.” The death penalty of these 11 convicts was commuted to life imprisonment by the Gujarat High Court.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Gujarat government, submitted before a bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud that state is seriously pressing for death penalty for the convicts, which the Gujarat High Court commuted to life imprisonment.
Mehta said, “This is the rarest of rare cases where 59 people, including women and children, were burnt alive,” and added that it is consistent everywhere that the bogey was locked from outside and 59 died.
In February 2002, 59 people were killed when a coach of the train was burnt at Gujarat’s Godhra, triggering riots in the state.
The bench, comprising justices P.S. Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala, queried Mehta, “will they be entitled to premature release (as per the Gujarat government policy).”
Mehta said not in this case, as TADA was invoked and stressed it is “rarest of rare case, grave offence”. Mehta was assisted by advocate Swati Ghildiyal, standing counsel for Gujarat.
The top court asked counsel for both sides to submit a consolidated chart giving details such as actual sentences awarded to the convicts and the period spent in jail till now.
After hearing arguments, the bench fixed the bail pleas of several accused in the case for hearing after three weeks.
During the hearing, Mehta informed the bench that 11 convicts were sentenced to death by the trial court and 20 others granted life term in the case. He further added that the high court upheld total 31 convictions in the case and commuted the death penalties of the 11 convicts to life term.
The Gujarat government had moved the apex court challenging the commutation of death penalty into life imprisonment for 11 convicts.
The apex court was informed that several accused in the matter have challenged the high court order upholding their convictions in the case.
On December 15 last year, the Supreme Court granted bail to one of the accused in the 2002 Godhra train burning, which was followed by communal riots in Gujarat.
Last month, the Supreme Court had issued notice to the state government on the bail pleas of Abdul Raheman Dhantia alias Kankatto, Abdul Sattar Ibrahim Gaddi Asla and others.