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Drop terror charges against Godhra train carnage accused: Supreme Court
New Delhi :
The Supreme Court  ordered the dropping of terror charges against all the 131 people accused of setting ablaze a sleeper coach of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station in Gujarat on Feb 27, 2002, killing 59 passengers. A bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice Dalveer Bhandari and Justice R.V. Raveendran instead ordered their trial for penal offences like murder and arson. The bench also noted that a panel appointed by the union government to review the desirability of slapping terror charges against the accused had recommended the scraping of the terror charges. The bench held that the recommendations of the review committee, formed under the now repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), was biding on the state government. At the same time, the bench held that those aggrieved by the review committee’s decision, like the state government or the families of the Godhra train carnage victims, could challenge the review committee’s decision before the high court or the apex court itself. The Supreme Court ruling came on a bunch of lawsuits by various Godhra train carnage accused challenging the state government’s decision to seek their trial under POTA despite the review committee’s recommendation to the contrary. Besides the train carnage accused, the petitioners also included the relatives of the victims, who had approached the apex court challenging the review panel’s recommendations. Soon after assuming power at the centre, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government had repealed POTA in September 2004 and had also formed a review panel to ascertain if various people across the country being tried under the anti-terror law were actually involved in terrorist activities. The three-member review committee, headed by retired judge S.C. Jain had, in May 2005, recommended the dropping of terror charges against all the 131 accused.