October 14, 2006 1:29:17 am
The Gujarat High Court on Friday declared the Centre’s setting up of the U C Banerjee Committee to probe the Godhra train carnage “illegal, unconstitutional” and “null and void.” The court also said that the committee’s report shall not be tabled in Parliament.
Justice D N Patel of Gujarat High Court quashed and set aside the Union Railway Ministry’s notification appointing a high-level committee, headed by Justice U C Banerjee, to look into the cause of fire in the Sabarmati Express in which kar sevaks of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) were killed.
The court also rejected the committee’s “interim report” which concluded that the fire was accidental and said this was opposite to the facts on record.
This order was delivered on a petition from a survivor of the carnage, Neelkanth Bhatia.
The petitioner had challenged the setting up of the committee on the grounds that it was illegal because the Justice Nanavati Shah Commission was already probing the same matter.
The committee was set up by the Union Cabinet on Septemer 3, 2004, to probe the incident in which 58 kar sevaks were killed in February 2002 in s fire in the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express, which was attacked by a mob at Godhra station.
The court held that the appointment of the committee was contrary to the various provisions of Commission of Inquiries Act and Railways Act.It observed that the Railway Ministry has no authority to appoint such a committee in gross violation of provisions of Railways Act under Sections 113, 114 and 119 of the Act.
The court further said appointment of the committee was a “colourable” exercise of power, which was not consistent with the laid-down provisions of the law.
Analysing the legal aspects involved, the court held that under Sections 3, 6, and 11 of the Commission of Inquiries Act, read together with Article 73 of the Constitution, the ministry could not have exercised executive power to constitute such a committee.
Negating the arguments of railways that the petitioner had no locus standi to challenge the appointment of the committee, the court held that the petitioner is a victim and therefore has the right to seek fair trial of the accused.
Rejecting the theory of “accidental fire” given by the Justice Banerjee Committee in its interim report declared in January 2005, the court said this was opposite to the facts on record.
The High Court also observed that the interim report was released just two days before elections in Bihar. The court said the Railways Claims Tribunal, which had made its own inquiries to hand out compensation, had concluded that the train was set on fire by a mob.
Even under the Railway Accident Rule, if any inquiry is held and criminal case is filed, it is required to be held confidentially, while in this case, the committee was given wide publicity.
‘It’s a closed chapter, I’m not a politician’
What Banerjee panel had concluded:
• The fire in S-6 originated in coach itself, without external input
• It was impossible to set fire to the coach from outside
• No possibility of inflammable liquid being used
• Unbelievable that VHP kar sevaks armed with trishuls would allow themselves to getburnt without a murmur
What Justice Banerjee(right) said today:
• “I went to Gujarat, took evidence and submitted my report…Ever since I gave my report, it has been a closed chapter to me.”
• “I am not a politician. The Gujarat High Court has done something and it is up to them. I have got nothing more to say.”
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