The contentious issue of slapping POTA on the accused in the Sabarmati Express carnage of February 27,2002 may appear to have been finally resolved. However,seven years afterwards,little has changed on ground zero.
Seventeen out of 18 ‘conspirators’ who were declared absconders by the Gujarat Police in 2002,continue to be at large. The eighteenth man,Hussain Lalika,died a natural death.
Godhra Superintendent of Police J R Mothalia who had been involved in the Godhra carnage probe from day one,shrugged off questions about the police’s inability to track down the absconders. He maintained that he could not comment since the SIT was re-investigating the case.
“In 2002,they (police) arrested whomever they wanted. Some were declared ‘absconding conspirators’. Gujarat Police,however,will never even try to trace them because arresting them without strong grounds will only make the prosecution case weaker,” said Saeed Umarji,son of the prime accused in the case,Hussain Ibrahim Umarji alias Maulana. Maulana along with 99 others,is presently in the Sabarmati central jail here.
The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance (POTO) was invoked in the Godhra carnage case on March 2,2002. Five days after,the police added conspiracy charges (IPC section 120 (b)) on March 7,2002. POTO was revoked from the case less than a month later on March 25,2002. But it was slapped again on the 134 accused on February 5,2003.
The seventeen accused who are still at large are: Godhra municipal councillor at the time Farukh Bhana,businessman Ismail Chunga,Godhra resident Ibrahim Dhantiya,railway platform vendors – Salim Badam aka Salim Panwala,Raffiq Bhatuk,Shaukat Lalu,Kasam Bhameri,Imran alias Sheru,Sikankar,Musthak Bhoba,Abdul Mitha,Kadir Patadiya,Hussain Mohan,Razzak Chakini,Imram Kalandar,Farukh Dhantiya and Yakoob Pataliya. Some of these absconders reportedly have red corner notices issued against them by the Interpol,and many are believed to be holed up in Pakistan and elsewhere.
The Godhra carnage case through seven years:
* February 27,2002: 59 persons,mostly Karsevaks returning from Ayodhya,are charred to death in the the S 6 coach of Sabarmati Express at Godhra Railway station.
* March 2003: Gujarat Government sets up special POTA court in Ahmedabad and Godhra carnage was renamed POTA 1.
* November 2003: Acting on an NHRC petition,Supreme Court stays the case trial.
* May 2005: SC recommends for a Central POTA Review Committee (CPRC) to be formed.
* May 2005: CPRC observes that there was no evidence of the conspiracy alleged to have been hatched in Godhra carnage and hence ruled that POTA could not be invoked against the accused.
* February 12,2009: The Gujarat High Court upholds CPRC recommendations.