The High Court, deciding appeals challenging convictions and acquittals in the burning of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra – in which 59 people, mostly Kar Sevaks or Hindu volunteers returning from Ayodhya, were killed -changed death sentences to rigorous life imprisonment and confirmed life term for another 20.
The court referred to the Law Commission’s recommendation that the death penalty be abolished for any crime that is not related to terror or war against the state.
“The cases on hand have no genesis in the act of terrorism or waging war against the state,” the court said.
“Death penalties eliminate a person to a point of no return. While considering the question of sentence to death, a duty is cast upon the court to deliberate on various facets of sentence and to immunise itself to avoid branding imposition of death sentence as ‘judge centric’ or ‘blood thirsty’,” said the order made available on Tuesday.
Judges Anant S Dave and GR Udhwani pulled up the state government for failing to maintain law and order and make better arrangements for the devotees, considering the circumstances.
Confirming the conspiracy theory, the judges said the “emergence, pattern, nature, ignition, colour of flames and temperature along with smoke and fire in coach S/6 of the ill-fated train based on replies by experts “persuade us to reject theories canvassed by learned counsel for the defence about fire in the coach was due to unknown cause other than the conspiracy for which proper method of investigation in the cases of arson was not followed.”
It also said that the Railways Ministry did not take “measures to ensure the safety of the passengers or to provide alternatives”, considering that the Sabarmati Express was “overcrowded.”
The fact that 100 passengers could escape suggested that while “the accused had the intention to cause death and maximum damage, they did not intend to enhance the number of casualties,” the court said.