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Banerjee: Godhra Was an Accident


B.B.C., Delhi, Mar. 3, 2006

Photo: Godhra

An inquiry by the Indian rail ministry into a fire on a train in Gujarat four years ago has concluded that it was caused by an accident.

The February 2002 blaze claimed the lives of 59 Hindus and sparked religious riots in which at least 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

But the railway ministry finding has been rejected by the Hindu nationalist B.J.P. which governs Gujarat.

A separate inquiry into the Gujarat riots is yet to submit its conclusions.

It was alleged that the fire on the train which took place in the town of Godhra had been caused allegedly by an attack by a Muslim mob.

Dozens of suspects are being held in connection with the blaze under a tough anti-terrorist law which has since been repealed.

'Accidental fire'

A committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, Umesh Chandra Banerjee, submitted its final report to the railway ministry on Friday.

'We have come to the conclusion that it was not a deliberately attempted fire. It was an accidental fire,' Justice Banerjee told a news conference.

He said his interim report released last year, had made the same conclusion.

'No credibility'

The detailed report has not been yet made public.

But the B.J.P. has dismissed the findings saying the matter was a criminal case and should be decided in court.

'This is not something that can be decided by a departmental inquiry,' B.J.P. spokesman Arun Jaitley told journalists.

'It's a document . . . that has no credibility.'

The committee was set up by the Congress-party led government after it came to power defeating the B.J.P. in May 2004.

Most accounts following the train fire said a Muslim mob threw petrol bombs at the train, starting the blaze.

Survivor accounts also spoke of a stone-throwing mob attacking the train.

But Justice Banerjee said that according to eyewitness accounts people had been cooking in the carriage at the time it caught fire.

The riots in 2002 were among the worst religious riots in India since the country's partition in 1947.

The B.J.P. state government were criticised for not doing enough to contain the violence.