The Nanavati Commission, which probed the Godhra train burning and the subsequent communal riots in Gujarat, ends its term on Friday and will submit its second, final report in 2 weeks. Parimal Dabhi retraces the commission’s 12-year journey from March 2002.
On March 6, 2002, the Gujarat government appointed the commission under the Commissions of Inquiry Act. Initially, it was a one-member commission with retired high court judge K G Shah. Following a demand for a Supreme Court judge, it was made a two-member panel that May 21 with the induction of retired justice G T Nanavati, who was also heading the commission probing the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. In March 2008, following Shah’s death, he was replaced with retired high court judge Akshay Mehta.
TERMS OF REFERENCE
First the fire and riots, then Modi’s role too
Initially, the commission was to inquire into “facts, circumstances and the course of events of the incidents” relating to the Godhra incident, as well as the “facts, circumstances and course of events” of the subsequent riots and the adequacy of administrative measures taken, to ascertain if the attack on the train was pre-planned, and to recommend suitable measures to prevent a recurrence.
In 2004, coinciding with the change of regime at the Centre from UPA to NDA, the Gujarat government amended the terms of reference, asking the Commission to probe also the role and conduct of then chief minister Narendra Modi (now PM) and other ministers and police officers. The commission, however, never entertained applications or found it fit to summon Modi.
Ministers, policemen and the bereaved
Among those examined were then ministers Gordhan Zadaphia and I K Jadeja, police commissioners P C Pande (Ahmedabad) and D D Tuteja (Vadodara), IPS officers Rahul Sharma and R B Sreekumar, as well as Sanjiv Bhatt (later suspended) who spoke out against the government, and then additional chief secretary (home) Ashok Narayan. The commission also spoke to slain Congress MP Ahsan Jafri’s wife Zakia, key witness in the Best Bakery case Zaheera Shaikh, and murdered minister Haren Pandya’s father, who has since passed away.
THE FIRST REPORT
Clean chit to Modi
Submitted to Modi in September 2008, the report held that the fire on the train was indeed the result of a pre-planned conspiracy involving “some individuals”. It added, “…There is absolutely no evidence to show that either the chief minister and/or any other minister(s) in his council of ministers or police officers had played any role in the Godhra incident.”
It also cleared Modi and others of any role in the subsequent riots. It said that there was no evidence of “any lapse in providing protection, relief and rehabilitation to victims of the communal riots and in the matter of not complying with the recommendations and direction given by the National Human Rights Commission”.
THE OTHER COMMISSION
It called the train fire ‘an accident’
The Ministry of Railways under the UPA appointed a committee headed by retired SC judge U C Banerjee in September 2004, and later turned it into a commission under the CoI Act, to probe the train burning incident. Justice Banerjee’s findings were in total contrast to Justice Nanavati’s. In its interim report, it held that the fire was an accident.
A relative of one of the victims, Nilkanth Bhatia, challenged the report in Gujarat High Court on the ground that the Nanavati Commission was already probing the incident. A single-judge bench of Justice D N Patel termed the formation of the Banerjee Commission illegal, and the UPA appealed to a division bench, but this July the NDA government communicated to the division bench of Justices K S Jhaveri and A G Uraizee that it sought to withdraw the appeal. The bench allowed the withdrawal.
Justice Banerjee died in 2012.
The first, on Godhra train burning, was submitted in September 2008. The second, on the subsequent Gujarat riots, will be submitted in two more weeks, Justice Nanavati says.
59 Number of people, mostly kar sewaks, burnt alive on Sabarmati Express coach S-6 near Godhra on February 27, 2002.
1,169 Number of victims, mostly Muslims, of the communal riots that followed the burning of the train.
45,000 Estimated number of affidavits received by commission.
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