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Explained: What the Nanavati panel found on 2002 Gujarat riots

Five years after it was submitted, Nanavati Commission final report on Godhra train burning and Gujarat riots is tabled, giving a clean chit to then CM Modi. What are its broad findings, and what took it so long?

Written by Parimal A Dabhi | Ahmedabad |
Updated: December 12, 2019 6:02:56 pm
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On Wednesday, the Gujarat government tabled in the Assembly the report of the Nanavati Commission, which it had appointed to probe the burning of the Sabarmati Express in 2002 and the subsequent riots in the state. It gave a clean chit to then Chief Minister Narendra Modi, as well as to police, the BJP, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal.

What is the Nanavati Commission?

It was set up in 2002 following the burning of the Sabarmati Express near Godhra station on February 27, 2002, in which 59 died. Initially a one-judge Commission headed by Justice K G Shah, it was later expanded to be headed by retired Justice G T Nanavati. Following Shah’s death in 2008, Justice Akshay Mehta was appointed in his place. Justice Mehta was the presiding judge when Babu Bajrangi, prime accused in the cases of violence in Naroda in Ahmedabad, got bail.

The Commission inquired into events leading to the Sabarmati Express incident, and subsequent incidents of violence in the state in which nearly 1,200 persons had been killed (including the 59 in the train carnage); the inadequacy of administrative measures taken to prevent and deal with disturbances; and whether the incident in Godhra was pre-planned and whether information was available with agencies to prevent it; and to recommend measures to prevent such incidents in the future.

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In 2004, its scope was expanded to include inquiry into the role and conduct of Modi and/or any other minister(s), police officers, other individuals and organisations. The Commission got 24 extensions until it submitted the final report in 2014.

Explained: What Nanavati panel found on 2002 Gujarat riots The final report was handed over by the commission, to the then chief minister Anandiben Patel in November 2014. (Archive)

Why did it take five years to table it?

The final report was submitted in 2014 to then Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, months after Modi became Prime Minister. Minister of State for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja, explaining why it took the government five years to table the report, said it was “voluminous and we needed to study every aspect before putting it out in public”.

Retired DGP R B Sreekumar, one of the witnesses before the Commission, had gone to the Gujarat High Court with a public interest litigation seeking its tabling. The Gujarat government told the court in September that it would table in the upcoming (now ongoing) Assembly session.

Why is called the final report?

The first report, containing a single volume dealing with the inquiry into the burning of the coaches, was tabled in the Assembly in 2008. That too gave a clean chit to Modi, his council of ministers and police officers. It concluded that the train burning was “pre-planned act” and done to “cause harm to the kar sevaks travelling in that coach”.

What does the final report cover?

The final report, which is of nine volumes across 2,500 pages, again gave Modi and his council of ministers a clean chit. The commission trashed evidence provided by former IPS officers retired DGP Sreekumar, Rahul Sharma and Sanjiv Bhatt, that alleged complicity on the part of the government and its functionaries. It has also cleared former ministers the late Haren Pandya and Ashok Bhatt, and Bharat Barot.

The commission deemed false the evidence provided against the then Minister of State for Home Gordhan Zadaphia. Following the findings, MoS (Home) Jadeja said the government would initiate departmental proceedings against the three former police officers.

The report deals with North, South, Central Gujarat, and Saurashtra and Kutch in dedicated volumes. One volume is dedicated to Vadodara City and two to Ahmedabad City and district, the urban centres that saw the highest number of casualties in the cases of Best Bakery, Naroda Patiya, Naroda Gam and Gulberg Society, which were among the nine cases being investigated and tried under the supervision of the Supreme Court.

Explained: What Nanavati panel found on 2002 Gujarat riots The February 27, 2002 train burning incident in Godhra claimed the lives of 59 Hindus. (Archive)

What are the key findings?

The Commission found that there was no conspiracy involved in the riots and they were largely the outcome of the anger over the Godhra train burning incident. The Commission considered testimonies provided to counter the evidence and testimonies provided by NGOs and rights groups like Teesta Setalvad of Citizens for Justice and Peace, and Jan Sangharsh Manch led by the late Mukul Sinha, who is credited with leading the cross-examinations of government officials and political functionaries.

Read | ‘Anger over train burning led to riots’: Commission report

What are its findings about Modi?

It quoted Modi as having told it that he was being “kept informed about the incident (when it) started happening on 27.2.002 and from 28.2.2002 by the senior officers heading their respective departments. The senior officers heading their respective departments were also keeping me posted with the steps taken by them to control the sudden violent situation erupted in the aftermath of Godhra train burning incident with the effective aid and assistance of all forces including para military forces and military which the state agencies had deployed immediately”.

What did it say about ministers, police and various organisations?

It concluded that “there is no incident to show that either BJP, VHP or any other political party or its leaders or any religious organisations or their leaders had instigated attacks on Muslims. Only in two cases it was alleged that VHP persons had taken part in those incidents… The incidents against Muslims appear to have happened because of the anger of the people on account of the Godhra incident… Anti-social elements appear to have taken part in some incidents.”

It said a number of affidavits were filed stating that the police had taken prompt and effective steps to curb violence and had saved lives and properties. The Commission said it found no evidence to show there was any inaction or negligence on the part of police in maintaining law and order in the district, or to show involvement of any Minister of the State Government in the incidents or any interference by a Minister in the functioning of the police.

What are the key recommendations?

One is that “reasonable restriction be placed upon the media in matter of publication of reports about the incidents (during communal riots)”. The Commission cited testimonies accusing media of giving “wide publicity to the Godhra incident and the incidents that happened thereafter people got excited and indulged in communal violence”. It also found “deep rooted hatred between some sections of Hindu and Muslim communities” as one of the causes of communal riots and recommends government to take steps for removing this “weakness” from society. It cited instances to show that Hindus, in fact, were either assaulted for helping Muslims or alerted Muslims about possible attacks.

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