Saturday, October 14, 2006

Bannerjee Committee illegal: High Court

Bannerjee Committee illegal: High Court

The Gujarat High Court on Friday held the constitution of the U. C. Bannerjee Committee by the Railway Ministry to probe the Godhra train carnage illegal and unconstitutional.

It restrained the Centre from tabling the committee report in Parliament or taking any further action on it.

Allowing a petition filed on March 28, 2005 by Neelkanth Tulsidas Bhatia, one of those injured in the February 27, 2002 carnage on the outskirts of the Godhra railway station, Justice D. N. Patel held that the Ministry and the Centre had no jurisdiction to issue the September 2, 2004 notification appointing the committee. Its constitution was "unconstitutional, illegal and null and void.''

Taking note of the existence of the G.T. Nanavati and K.G. Shah judicial inquiry commission appointed by the Gujarat Government earlier to go into the carnage and the post-Godhra communal riots, the court said that neither under the Commission of Inquiry Act nor under the Indian Railways Act, the Railway Ministry was authorised to appoint a committee to probe the same matter.

On the plea by railway advocate Nirupam Nanavati that the Centre had jurisdiction in any inter-State matter as the Sabarmati Express had passed through more than one State before the incident occurred at Godhra, the court said such powers were vested in the Centre in appointing an inquiry commission and not a high-level committee.

The court viewed with apprehension the Ministry's attempt to upgrade the committee vesting it with powers of a judicial commission. This was a "colourable exercise of power with mala fide intentions.''

Justice Patel also took exception to the appointment of the committee two years and seven months after the incident had occurred, the way its interim report was submitted just two days before the Bihar elections and the publicity given to it for apparent political advantages.

The court flayed the committee's interim report, which was later confirmed in its final report, describing the fire in coach S6 as "accidental, possibly caused by short circuiting.''

The Bannerjee report was "contrary'' to the "facts'' available to the court and also the "admission'' by the Railway Accident Claim Tribunal which, in the event of the petitioner's claim, clearly mentioned that "it is an admitted fact that he sustained injury in coach S6, which was set on fire by a mob.''

The Bannerjee Committee "propounding the theory of accidental fire is just opposite to what the facts are," observed the judge.

Voluminous verdict

Justice Patel, who took more than four hours to read out the voluminous judgment, also rejected the Railways' argument that the petitioner had no locus standi to file the petition. He was a "victim and had the right to a fair trial and the Bannerjee report, "contrary to the facts of the records of the case," would be violative of Article 21 of the Constitution giving all citizens equal rights for justice.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi, welcoming the judgment, said the "justice loving people of the country and of the State" would be happy over the court's stand.

The appointment of the Bannerjee Committee was a "conspiracy" by the UPA Government at the Centre and all other "anti-Gujarat forces'' as part of the "minority vote-bank politics'' and to "save those accused of the train carnage."

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