Nanavati report on Godhra: Four accounts on who decided to get bodies to Ahmedabad

PARIMAL DABHI
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The Commission recorded at least four accounts related to the transportation of the dead bodies of 54 persons, who were killed in the Godhra train burning incident on February 27, 2002.(Express photo/File)

The Justice Nanavati-Mehta Commission report on 2002 Gujarat riots that was tabled in the Gujarat Assembly on Wednesday said that after the burning of the S-6 coach of Sabarmati Express at Godhra Railway Station, 54 bodies were handed over to Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Jaydeep Patel, to be sent to Sola Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad, by the district administration.

A controversy had raged during the commission sittings on who exactly was given custody of the bodies and who took the decision to take all the bodies to Ahmedabad. The alleged “parading” of the bodies in Ahmedabad was said to have been one of the reasons behind the reprisal.

However, it is not clear in the Commission’s report on who took the decision to hand over the bodies to be taken to Ahmedabad to Jaydeep Patel, who was later arraigned as an accused in the 2002 Naroda Gam masscare, in which 11 persons were killed.

The Commission recorded at least four accounts related to the transportation of the dead bodies of 54 persons, who were killed in the Godhra train burning incident on February 27, 2002. These accounts include that of then Chief Minister Narendra Modi, then District Magistrate and District Collector Jayanti Ravi, then Executive Magistrate of Godhra, Mahendra Nalwaya, and then Additional Chief Secretary (Home), Ashok Narayan.

The first account recorded by the Commission in this regard is that of then District Magistrate & District Collector of Panchmahal, Jayanti Ravi. “Jayanti Ravi...in her statement dated 7.6.2002 has stated that in the meeting held at Godhra, after discussion with the Chief Minister, it was decided to hand over the dead bodies to the relatives who were present at Godhra, and in a position to identify those dead bodies. With respect to those dead bodies whose relatives were not present in Godhra, it was decided to send them to the districts to which they belonged... As regards to the bodies of persons belonging to Ahmedabad district and districts beyond Ahmedabad, it was decided to send them to Civil Hospital, Sola (Ahmedabad), for security reasons as the said place was outside the densely populated locality of Ahmedabad...,” the Commission has recorded, while discussing the issue of transportation of 54 dead bodies to Ahmedabad from Godhra.

The Commission had then produced Jayanti Ravi’s statement before the Special Investigation Team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court, recorded on September 15, 2009, where she reportedly said, “...after inspecting the site of the Godhra incident, they all went to the Collectorate. The Chief Minister met local leaders and groups, including Congress MLA Rajendrabhai Patel, to take stock of the situation. At that time, Dr Jaydeep Patel was also present. After discussion, it was unanimous view of all concerned that the dead bodies of Karsevaks who were traveling to Ahmedabad and places around Ahmedabad should be sent to Ahmedabad by road...The transportation of those dead bodies was arranged in trucks. She had come to know that Dr Jaydeep Patel had traveled with those dead bodies to Ahmedabad.”

The Commission added, “In her further statement, she has stated that after holding discussion with the Chief Minister, it was decided with respect to the dead bodies whose relatives were not present at Godhra, to send them to Civil Hospital, Sola, for security reason as it is situated on the outskirts of Ahmedabad away from the crowded area. She has also stated that no instructions were issued at that time to Shri Nalwaya (local Mamlatdar or Executive Magistrate) to hand over the dead bodies to Dr Jaydeep Patel...”

Meanwhile, the Commission has also produced the deposition of Mahendra Nalwaya, then Executive Magistrate, and said, “In his further affidavit filed on 5.9.2009, Shri Nalwaya has stated that under oral instructions of the District Magistrate and the Additional District Magistrate, Panchmahals, he had sent those dead bodies in vehicles arranged by him and under police police escort, he had handed over those dead bodies to Dr Jaydeep Patel and in the letter which he had prepared for that purpose, Hasmukh T Patel has signed as a person receiving those dead bodies.”

The report has further recorded Nalwaya’s testimony and said, “Four dead bodies were identified by their relatives and as such the same were handed over to them, as per the orders of the DM (District Magistrate) and ADM (Additional District Magistrate)...The remaining 54 dead bodies could not be identified and as such Smt Jayanti S Ravi, DM, Godhra and late B N Damor, ADM, Godhra ordered that the same may be transported to Ahmedabad.”

Nalwaya has stated in his evidence that the 54 dead bodies were officially handed over to Dr Jaydeep Patel and Hasmukh T Patel of VHP through a letter dated February 27, 2002.

The Commission has also produced the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s evidence recorded by Supreme Court appointed SIT on March 27/28, 2010. In his statement to SIT as produced by the Commission in its report, Modi said, “In the meeting held at the Collectorate, a collective decision was taken in consultation with all those persons present there to transport the dead bodies of the victims to Ahmedabad. I instructed that the dead bodies should be kept at Sola Civil Hospital on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, so that tension should not mount. This decision was taken in light of the fact that it was learnt that most of the victims belonged to Ahmedabad and other places beyond Ahmedabad and their relatives need not come to Godhra for their identification and claiming the dead bodies, as Godhra town was under curfew.”

Citing Modi, the Commission then stated, “He (Modi) has further stated that after the decision was taken to transport the dead bodies to Ahmedabad, it was duty of the District Administration to chalk out the modalities for its transportation and he did not know the details as to how and when the dead bodies reached Ahmedabad.”

Quoting the deposition of then Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Ashok Narayan, the Commission report said, “He (Ashok Narayan) has stated that the decision to bring the dead bodies at Sola Civil Hospital was that of the Chief Minister.”

The Commission has concluded its finding on the topic saying, “On consideration of the evidence on this point, the Commission comes to the conclusion that because of (1) curfew in Godhra town, (2) the fact that the dead bodies not identified at Godhra were of persons who either belonged to Ahmedabad or places beyond or around Ahmedabad and (3) no relatives were available at Godhra to take them, it was decided by the Government to send them to Ahmedabad. It was a unanimous decision taken in a meeting where the District officials, other local leaders and the Chief Minister were present. The modality of transporting the dead bodies was left to the local administration and it appears that under instructions of the District Magistrate and the Additional District Magistrate, it was decided to send the dead bodies in trucks to Ahmedabad under police escort. It was decided by the local officers to send the dead bodies to Civil Hospital at Sola, which was on the outskirts of Ahmedabad and quite away from densely populated localities of Ahmedabad.”

“It appears that the Taluka Mamlatdar and Executive Magistrate Shri Nalwaya had on his own thought it fit to hand over those dead bodies to Shri Jaydeep Patel, even while sending them under police escort. That appears to have been done by him as the dead bodies were of VHP men and Shri Jaydeep Patel wanted to go with those dead bodies,” the Commission recorded.

It also recorded that after reaching Ahmedabad, “The dead bodies were not taken within ‘streets of Ahmedabad’ or the trucks had not passed through densely populated parts of Ahmedabad city. It is therefore, incorrect to say that the dead bodies were paraded on the street of Ahmedabad with a view to inflame the passions of Hindu community. The transportation was done at night and there is no evidence to show that at any place on the road people had gathered to see those dead bodies. The evidence also discloses that the decision to send those dead bodies to Ahmedabad was taken for the reason that curfew was already imposed in Godhra town by the time such decision was taken and it was felt that it would be very difficult for the relatives of those dead persons to come to Godhra and collect dead bodies of their relatives. The Commission does not find any substance in the allegation that the Chief Minister had arranged the same with an evil intention.”