AHMEDABAD: The Gujarat High Court on Friday termed the appointment of the high-level Justice UC Banerjee panel that probed the Godhra train carnage as "unconstitutional, illegal and void".
Setting aside the commission's report, the court also directed that the report shall not be tabled in the Parliament. The commission was set up by Union Railway Minister Lalu Prasad in 2004 to investigate the fire in S-6 of the Sabarmati Express in which 59 people died on February 27, 2002, in Godhra.
The formation of the commission was challenged by a victim Neelkanth Bhatia, who contended that there was already a commission probing the fire.
Upholding the argument of the petitioner, the order passed by Justice DN Patel, stated: "The Railways has no authority to appoint such a committee as it was in gross violation of provisions of sections of the Indian Railways Act."
The petitioner's counsels argued that the UC Banerjee commission was illegal as it was constituted two years and seven months after the train arson, and after the Gujarat government had already appointed the Nanavati-Shah Commission to probe the issue.
The court negated the arguments that the petitioner had no locus standi to oppose its creation. "The petitioner is a victim and the Banerjee report terming the Godhra fire as 'accidental' deprived him of his right to a fair trial," it said.
The court also termed the commission's finding as "contrary to the facts of the case".
The HC order came for flak from activists. Advocate for Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM) Mukul Sinha, who had opposed the petition, said that they would file an appeal.
Speaking to DNA Sinha said, "The petition was not bonafide as it was filed only after the Banerjee panel came out with its interim report. The petitioner could have challenged the formation of the commission immediately after its creation."
Sinha also said both — the Nanavati-Shah Commission of Inquiry and Banerjee Commission — were complimentary and there was nothing wrong if another view came before the government and people.
Mirroring Sinha's views, human rights activist Girish Patel said, "Both the panel reports are administrative reports for public inquiry. How does it hamper the individual's right to justice," he asked.