The Gujarat government has decided to pay Rs 5 lakh compensation to the kin of each of the 52 victims of Godhra train burning incident. On February 27, it will be 17 years since the incident that triggered one of the worst communal riots in the country’s history. The decision comes nearly 1.4 years after the Gujarat High Court directed that the compensation be paid out, while delivering the judgment on October 9, 2017 on a petition appealing against the sentence given out by the trial court.
Announcing the decision, State Home Minister Pradeepsinh Jadeja said in a statement on Thursday that the government will be spending Rs 260 lakh for this purpose from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund. Jadeja pointed out that the Gujarat High Court had directed both the Gujarat government and the Railway ministry to pay Rs 5 lakh each to the kin of those who were killed after a coach of Sabarmati Express was set afire on February 27, 2002. The deaths, mostly of karsevaks who were returning from Ayodhya, had sparked off state-wide communal riots where over 1,000 persons, mostly from the minority community, were killed.
Jadeja pointed out that a total of 59 persons were killed in the attack on the train. Of these only 52 have been identified, while seven remained unidentified. The total compensation amount will be handed over to Ahmedabad-based State Legal Services Authority that will then disburse the money to the families of the victims.
The Gujarat High Court had commuted the death sentence of 11 convicts to rigorous life imprisonment and had upheld the life imprisonment awarded to 20 others. It also confirmed the acquittal of 63 remaining accused, which included the alleged mastermind, Maulana Husain Umarji, who had died in 2013. The Division Bench of Justices Anant S Dave and G R Udhwani also held that the Gujarat government had failed to discharge its duty in maintaining law and order during the incident and directed it to pay compensation to the kin of the deceased.
Judge P R Patel, who adjudicated the Godhra train burning case as the special trial judge awarding death penalty to 11 convicts in March 2011, was appointed Special Officer (Litigation) by the Gujarat government, a post specially created. Patel was appointed as soon as he retired as Registrar General of the Gujarat High Court.
Meanwhile, most victims of the Godhra train carnage have moved on but they look forward to whatever little comes their way. Reacting to the government’s decision to grant compensation, while some have said that the delayed compensation will not bring back their relatives, some have hailed the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government for it.
“What is the point of it now? My son was in third standard when my husband passed away. I washed utensils to ensure my two children get education. Today, while my son, Vikas (25), is completing his engineering from Prahladnagar, my daughter Bhumika Vyas (27), teaches at a private school. Both my children are now married, I had to borrow money from my relatives for their weddings. I spend around Rs 3,000 every month on my medical bills. If the compensation does come, I will set it aside for my medical costs,” said Meena Vyas (58), who lost her husband Satishchandra Vyas in the incident. She lives in Odhav here.
Satish Mishra of Vadodara, who lost his wife Mangala Mishra in the carnage, said: “I don’t know what to say now. In all these years, I was tired of running around trying to complete all the procedures. I then took a step back to relax. They came a few days ago for some inquiry and I cooperated with them. I have not been officially notified about the compensation yet. Even if delayed, it will certainly help the families of the victims. If I get the money, I can invest it somewhere and start a business of my own.”
Jayantibhai Patel (57), who lost his mother Champaben Patel, said, “Take Rs 40 lakh from me if you can bring back my mother. No one knows the pain of seeing your mother’s burnt body, who is beyond recognition. The last time we got compensation, my brother asked me to keep it. But this time I will insist that he takes it. I earn enough to live comfortably. The compensation is coming barely over a year after the HC order. The BJP government has been very proactive. If it were up to the Congress, we would never have been compensated. Modi government has really thought about us.”
With inputs from Aishwarya Mohanty