Nanavati Commission: conjured controversy
by Shreerang Godbole on 01 Oct 2008 2 Comments

Following the carnage that took place in Godhra on the fateful morning of 27 February 2002, and the subsequent sectarian violence, Chief Minister Narendra Modi set up the Justice Nanavati Commission of inquiry.

Set up in March 2002, the Gujarat Government had made a three point reference for inquiry:
? The facts, circumstances and course of events of the incidents that led to the setting on fire of some coaches of Sabarmati Express on 27.2.2002 near Godhra railway station;
? The facts, circumstances and course of events of the subsequent incidents of violence in the State in the aftermath of the Godhra incident; and
? The adequacy of the administrative measures taken to prevent and deal with the disturbances in Godhra and subsequent disturbances in the State.

The Commission has now released the first part of its report and is expected to release its other findings in December 2008. The Commission came to the conclusion that “on the basis of facts and circumstances, proved by evidence…the burning of coach S-6 was a pre-planned act. In other words, there was a conspiracy to burn coach S-6 of Sabarmati train coming from Ayodhya and to cause harm to the Karsevaks travelling in that coach” (Para 227). 

Predictably, this finding has not found favour with secularist busybodies who are hell-bent on denying that an act of terror had been perpetrated by a Muslim mob on innocent Hindu pilgrims that included women and children. In a bizarre display of negationism, secularist chatterboxes insist that the Godhra carnage was a plain and simple accident. They received some boost after the Justice U.C. Banerjee Committee concurred with this fanciful concoction, but more on that later. 

What was even more dismaying to the secularist mob was the Nanavati Commission’s conclusion that “there is absolutely no evidence to show that either Chief Minister and/or any other Ministers in his Council of Ministers or Police Officers have played any role in the Godhra incident or that there was any lapse on their part in the matter of providing protection, relief, rehabilitation to the victims or in the matter of not complying with the recommendations and directions given by National Human Rights Commission” (Para 239.2). 

One of the crackpot theories doing the rounds in Islamist periodicals was that it was Modi who actually engineered the Godhra carnage of Hindus to trigger a subsequent Muslim genocide. When a retired judge of the Supreme Court appointed as per Constitutional procedures, sifts painstakingly through a mountain of evidence over six years and gives his verdict, it makes sense to accept it gracefully. But sense and grace have never been the forte of the secularist shouting brigade. Unmindful of the fact that their antics undermine faith in the judiciary, the secularist cry-babies are whipping up hysteria against the Nanavati report.  They are trying to conjure up a controversy where none exists.

Lest we forget, the Gujarat Government appointed the Commission following objections and criticism from opposition parties and self-styled human rights activists. Not satisfied, the secularist brigade started fault-finding from the very beginning. Initially, Justice K.G. Shah formed the single-judge panel. The secularists took exception to his appointment merely because he had sentenced some Muslims to death in his past rulings! Their hue and cry forced the Gujarat government to appoint Justice G.T. Nanavati as new chairman of the reconstituted two-judge commission. After Justice Shah died in March this year, the Modi government filled the vacancy with retired High Court judge Akshay Mehta. 

No one can accuse Justice Nanavati of being a BJP sympathizer. A retired judge of the Supreme Court, he was appointed by the NDA Government in May 2000 to inquire into the massacre of Sikhs in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. In its report submitted in February 2004, the Nanavati Commission held that “there was absolutely no evidence suggesting that Shri Rajiv Gandhi or any other high ranking Congress (I) leader had suggested or organized attacks on Sikhs. Whatever acts were done, were done by the local Congress (I) leaders and workers…” Justice Nanavati’s report did not mention clearly the role of Jagdish Tytler and other prominent Congress leaders in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.

Another objection raised is the timing of the release of the report and its tabling soon thereafter by Chief Minister Modi in the State Assembly.  The argument is that the BJP plans to use this as a weapon in the forthcoming Assembly elections in some states (not Gujarat, of course). This argument is truly desperate! If Justice Nanavati has to be faulted, it is for the fact that he took six long years to complete his report. If Modi wanted to use the report politically, he should have released it on the eve of the Gujarat elections when Tehelka had released a pathetic sting operation to stall Modi’s imminent electoral landslide. Anyway, one or other state in India is perpetually in election mode. At this rate, no judicial report should be released as it would benefit some political party. BJP hardly needs the Nanavati report to win elections. The UPA government’s willful non-handling of Islamic terror is an issue handed to BJP on a platter. 

Congress’ double-speak in all this drama is breathtaking. Congress has trashed the Nanavati Commission report. When the Banerjee report was released, the Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly, Arjun Modhvadia, had said it proved that if there was any “conspiracy,” it was by the Modi Government. Yet in a rare moment of lucidity, the ex-CM of Gujarat and then president of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee, late Amarsinh Chaudhary, had filed an affidavit on 1 July 2002 before the Nanavati Commission. He stated therein that “incident of Godhra is a planned one and is an act of conspiracy. I say that it must be an act of conspiracy because such carnage would not have happened suddenly and spontaneously,” (Para 41).

To return to the Justice Banerjee Committee report. The secular brigade is now clamouring for a new Central Government-appointed Commission under a judge of the Supreme Court on the specious plea that the findings of the Banerjee and Nanavati Commissions contradict each other! It seems only a kangaroo court that convicts and hangs Modi will satisfy this bloodthirsty mob. Senior Congressman Veerappa Moily was at his Stalinist best when he said that in any other country, Modi would have been hanged! Since an effort is being made to put the two Commissions on par, it is worthwhile to compare them. 

The Nanavati Commission was a full-fledged Inquiry Commission duly constituted under the provisions of the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952. It was a multi-member commission whose members have been appointed in consultation with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of the Gujarat High Court. The appointment of members of Justice Nanavati-Shah Commission underwent judicial scrutiny, and both appointments were held valid.

On the other hand, the Banerjee ‘Commission’ was actually a High Level Committee constituted by the Government of India, Ministry of Railways in exercise of powers vested under Article 73 of the Constitution of India. It did not have the status of a Commission under the Inquiry Commission’s Act. Justice Banerjee was assisted by three Technical Officers of the Railways.

Interestingly, even while the Railways-appointed Banerjee Committee described the Godhra incident as “purely accidental,” the Railway Tribunal paid compensation to the family members of 50 “victims of a violent attack” on the Sabarmati Express. The constitution of the Banerjee Committee was held as bad in law, quashed and set aside by the Gujarat High Court on 13 October 2006. The High Court also passed orders that the final report of the Committee cannot be published or tabled on the floor of the Parliament. The case is currently pending before the Supreme Court. 

The Terms of Reference of the Nanavati Commission were broad and it was appointed immediately after the incident. During its long tenure, the Commission examined a large number of eye-witnesses, documentary evidences, expert witnesses (forensic experts) and investigating officers. The Commission received applications and affidavits from 44,475 individuals. Besides, there were 2019 statements and affidavits filed by Government officers.

All witnesses had been duly cross-examined by lawyers representing different social and political groups, including those from the Congress, Jan Sangharsh Manch and Muslim outfits such as Central Relief Committee and Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind. One of the most vocal lawyers was Gujarat High Court advocate Mukul Sinha of Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM), an outfit with an unabashed animus towards Modi. A former scientist with Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Sinha is now an activist in the mould of Teesta Setalvad and Harsh Mander!

The Nanavati Commission went into the facts, circumstances and all possible causes of the incident and the report was based upon concrete evidences, not mere probabilities and speculations. The Commission gave full credence to the scientific report submitted by Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) and the railway authorities with regard to the cause of fire, the nature of fire and characteristics of the material used in the burnt coach.

The FSL, Gandhinagar based its observations on scientific examination to reach its conclusions. Evidences were collected from the scene of the incident by a team of experts which were packed, sealed and sent to the laboratory for detailed examination. Thus, a legal chain of custody was maintained and the entire procedure was followed by investigating agencies. The laboratory used all modern and scientific technologies for examination of these exhibits. 

The Commission collected all evidences with regard to assault on train by stone-pelting, forcible entry, pouring of petrol and setting it on fire by way of pushing of rags from outside.  An extensive examination of various theories regarding the “fire” was done by the Commission before reaching a conclusion. Due credence was given to the testimony of Railway Police Force (RPF) personnel and the report submitted by the then Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) of Railways immediately after the incident.

In contrast, the Banerjee Committee had weak Terms of Reference and was limited only to the Godhra Railway Station incident. The Committee was formed 2½ years after the incident. Railway Minister Laloo Prasad, whose party was facing a drubbing in the Bihar elections, had asked that the report be submitted within six months to coincide with the election. 

The Banerjee Committee examined a handful of passengers and witnesses in a short period. It did not examine any of the investigating officers or bother to look in to the case papers on record before reaching a final conclusion. No opportunity was given to political parties and other private individuals to be heard in the committee.

The Banerjee Committee paid virtually no attention to solid forensic evidence. It took into account a solitary report of ‘'Hazards Centre,’ New Delhi. This NGO has private individuals on its Board of Governors. The authenticity of the ‘Hazards Centre’ report is in doubt as it was prepared 32 months after the incident. Though the Banerjee Committee had procured reports of Gandhinagar FSL and Calcutta FSL, it made no mention of these reports in its final observations. 

The Committee ridiculed the “petrol theory” or any ‘miscreant activity’ as absurd. It did not mention stone-pelting or assault on the train when evidences clearly prove the occurrence of these incidents. Though the confidential report of the then DRM submitted immediately after the incident was mentioned in the interim report, no credence was given to his testimony. The DRM's report was taken on record, but was rejected without assigning any reason.

All this goes to prove that the Banerjee Committee was a sham carried out at the behest of Laloo Prasad and the secular brigade to blot out the Muslim terror that provoked the subsequent Hindu reaction. That a former judge of the Supreme Court should have become a willing accomplice is the most saddening part of this farce.

The Nanavati Commission is the first step towards rendering justice to the families of those roasted alive on that fateful day. Their only crime was that they were Hindus. We expect nothing from those who have no tears to shed for the innocent victims and who insist that the victims were in fact the agent provocateurs.  They are free to rake up controversy. What we do await is swift and exemplary punishment to the guilty by the Modi government.   

Dr. Godbole is a Pune-based endocrinologist, social activist and author. He has contributed in making

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