Living on the ‘age’: Law still unsure on how to try two minor Godhra accused

There is still no resolution in sight on the question as to which of the two special acts-Juvenile Justice Care and Protection of Children Act...

Written by Vikram Rautela | Ahmedabad | Published: March 8, 2009 5:02 am

Three other juveniles arrested in the train burning case were released

There is still no resolution in sight on the question as to which of the two special acts —Juvenile Justice Care and Protection of Children Act,2000 and Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) — is applicable on two Godhra carnage accused,Anwar Abdulla Kalandar and Shakir Patariya. The two were minors when the Sabarmati Express was burnt down on February 27,2002.

There has been a lot of conjecture on the issue after contradictory judgments were made by the Madras High Court and the Gauhati High Court respectively.

Seven years after the episode,when POTA charges have been dropped against the 134 accused in the case,it is a matter of debate if Anwar and Shakir,who are now 24 and 23 respectively,can be ‘reformed’ under provisions of the Act that applies to juvenile delinquents only. The two have been lodged as ‘terrorists’ in the Khanpur remand home since 2005.

According to Section 14 of the Act,a Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) will order an inquiry into the case against Anwar and Shakir. If found guilty,they will be sent on four-month reformation. Section 15 of the Act adds that only in some special cases can offenders above 17 be kept in a remand home for two years at the most. “The question before the board will now be about the relevance of reforming (if they can be) two adults,” a retired Gujarat High Court judge said.

Anwar and Shakir are not the only juvenile accused in the case. Three others—Hassan Taiyab Iqbal (17),Firoz Sikandar Khan (15) and Hasan Wahid Khan Pathan (15)—had been arrested in April 2002. They were later released on bail as juvenile delinquents and no proceedings were initiated to re-arrest them when the government re-invoked POTA in the case in February 2003. “It is now a question of parity also. Why should three minors accused of the case,who were arrested a couple of years before the other two,be treated differently?” the judge added.

The Gujarat High Court had recently upheld the Central POTA Review Committee’s recommendations that the repealed POTA was not applicable in the torching of the train at Godhra. The immediate fallout of this order was the transfer of the case from the POTA court to a Sessions Court in Godhra.

“For Anwar and Shakir,this would mean that their long pending demands of being transferred to a remand home in Godhra would be finally accepted. We also plan to move bail pleas for them soon,” said Shakir’s counsel M I Mansuri.

On February 27,2002,Anwar was 17 and Shakir 16. They were arrested under POTA in 2004 and sent to judicial custody in the Sabarmati Central Jail.

Their lawyers then put forward an argument based on a judgment of the Supreme Court that said that the age of an accused at the time of incident and not at the time of arrest will decide if he/she is a juvenile. Following this,the POTA court in 2005 ordered the transfer of the two to a remand home.

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