In a move that seems to have ended the legal controversy around the formation of Justice (retired) U C Banerjee Commission, set up to probe the 2002 Godhra train-burning incident, the Narendra Modi-led Central government has withdrawn an appeal challenging an order of a single-judge bench of the Gujarat High Court (HC) that termed the Commission as “illegal”. Following an official communication in this regard, a division bench of HC disposed of the appeal last week.
The one-member Commission, headed by former judge of the Supreme Court U C Banerjee, was formed in September 2004 by the then Railway Minister in the Congress-led UPA government, Lalu Prasad Yadav, to probe the train-burning incident. The Commission was appointed shortly after the Congress-led government came to power at the Centre.
Fifty nine persons, mostly kar sevaks of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, were killed in the fire incident. And Banerjee Commission had, in its interim report, held that the fire in the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express on February 27, 2002 was an accident that took place inside the train. The finding of the Banerjee Commission had sparked off a legal and political controversy as it was in stark contrast to the claim of the Gujarat government, then led by Narendra Modi, that the fire was caused as part of a conspiracy by some locals in Godhra. It also became controversial since another Commission – Nanavati-Mehta Commission appointed by the Gujarat Government – was already probing into the incident and subsequent riots in parts of Gujarat. Subsequently, the relative of one of the victims of the Godhra train-burning incident, Nilkanth Bhatia, had challenged the Banerjee Commission on the ground that one another Commission was already probing into the incident.
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Bhatia’s petition was allowed by a single-judge bench of HC – comprising Justice D N Patel – that termed the formation of Banerjee Commission as “illegal”.
Against this order of the HC, the Central government – then led by the Congress party – had moved an appeal before a division bench of the HC. Recently, on July 25, the Central government – now led by the BJP – put an official communication before a division bench of the HC, comprising Justices K S Jhaveri and A G Uraizee, while seeking to withdraw the appeal. The bench allowed the withdrawal and accordingly disposed of the petition.