Nanavati Commission

The Nanavati commission was appointed by the government of Gujarat to probe the Godhra train burning incident of 27 February 2002 and the subsequent communal riots in Gujarat. It was appointed on 6 March 2002. The Commission submitted in September 2008 the part of the report covering the Godhra train burning incident (Part I). The Commission, term ended on 31st October 2014 and it will submit its second, final report.

Commission formation

After commission was appointed it was twice changed

  • On March 6, 2002, the Gujarat government appointed the commission under the Commissions of Inquiry Act.
  • Initially, it was a one-member commission with retired high court judge K G Shah.
  • Following a demand for a Supreme Court judge, it was made a two-member panel. On 21st May 2002, retired justice G T Nanavati was inducted on the commission. Retired Justice G T Nanavati was also heading the commission probing the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
  • In March 2008, following Shah’s death, he was replaced with retired high court judge Akshay Mehta.

Terms and Reference of Commissions

  • Initially, the commission was to inquire into facts, circumstances and the course of events of the incidents relating to the Godhra incident.
  • It was also to inquire the facts, circumstances and course of events of the subsequent riots and the adequacy of administrative measures taken, to ascertain if the attack on the train was pre-planned, and to recommend suitable measures to prevent a recurrence.
  • In 2004, coinciding with the change of regime at the Centre from UPA to NDA, the Gujarat government amended the terms of reference, asking the Commission to probe also the role and conduct of then chief minister Narendra Modi (now PM) and other ministers and police officers.
  • The commission, however, never entertained applications or found it fit to summon Modi.

The witnesses examined by the Commission

  • Commission examined then ministers Gordhan Zadaphia and I K Jadeja, police commissioners P C Pande (Ahmedabad) and D D Tuteja (Vadodara), IPS officers Rahul Sharma and R B Sreekumar, as well as Sanjiv Bhatt (later suspended) who spoke out against the government, and then additional chief secretary (home) Ashok Narayan.
  • The commission also spoke to slain Congress MP Ahsan Jafri’s wife Zakia, key witness in the Best Bakery case Zaheera Shaikh, and murdered minister Haren Pandya’s father, who has since passed away.

Commission’s First Report

  • Commission submitted its first report to then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in September 2008.
  • The report held that the fire on the train was indeed the result of a pre-planned conspiracy involving some individuals.
  • Commission also mentioned that there is absolutely no evidence to show that either the chief minister and/or any other minister(s) in his council of ministers or police officers had played any role in the Godhra incident. Thus it cleared Modi and others of any role in the subsequent riots.
  • The first report also mentioned that there was no evidence of any lapse in providing protection, relief and rehabilitation to victims of the communal riots and in the matter of not complying with the recommendations and direction given by the National Human Rights Commission.

Other Commission appointed to examine this incident

  • The Ministry of Railways under the UPA appointed a committee headed by retired SC judge U C Banerjee in September 2004, and later turned it into a commission under the CoI Act, to probe the train burning incident.
  • Justice Banerjee’s findings were in total contrast to Justice Nanavati’s.
  • In its interim report, it held that the fire was an accident.
  • A relative of one of the victims, Nilkanth Bhatia, challenged the report in Gujarat High Court on the ground that the Nanavati Commission was already probing the incident.
  • Gujarat High Court’s single-judge bench of Justice D N Patel termed the formation of the Banerjee Commission illegal, and the UPA appealed to a division bench.
  • In July 2014 the NDA government communicated to the division bench of Justices K S Jhaveri and A G Uraizee that it sought to withdraw the appeal. The bench allowed the withdrawal.

Number of deaths as per commission

Report submitted by Justice Nanavati has  mentioned that

  • 59 people, mostly kar sewaks, burnt alive on Sabarmati Express coach S-6 near Godhra on February 27, 2002.
  • 1,169 victims, mostly Muslims died in the communal riots that followed the burning of the train.