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Last Updated: Monday, 17 January, 2005, 15:05 GMT
India train fire 'not mob attack'
Godhra train
The fire at Godhra triggered days of rioting
An Indian train fire that killed 59 Hindus and provoked deadly religious riots in 2002 was started by accident, a government inquiry has said.

Evidence suggests the fire began inside the train, not that it was fire-bombed, an investigating judge decided.

Most accounts from the time and since said a Muslim mob threw petrol bombs at the train, starting the blaze.

The incident set off days of rioting in Gujarat state in which at least 1,000 people, most of them Muslims,died.

The possibility of an inflammable liquid having been used is completely ruled out
Justice UC Banerjee

Since the train fire, state police have arrested more than 100 Muslims in connection with the incident.

About 75 of them remain on remand awaiting trial. No one has been convicted over the train fire.

Both Gujarat's inspector-general of police and India's main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were swift to dismiss the inquiry findings.

'Preponderance of evidence'

The Hindus aboard the train were returning from the holy town of Ayodhya when they perished in the blaze at Godhra.

The incident triggered acts of revenge which swept the state for days. Some estimates put the number of people killed in the slaughter at 2,000.

Gujarat riots
The riots caused divisions which have still to heal

Gujarat's state authorities say Muslims torched the train.

Survivor accounts speak of a stone-throwing mob attacking the train. But doubts have persisted over how the fire started.

Retired Supreme Court judge Umesh Chandra Banerjee, who is leading the government inquiry, dismissed suggestions that inflammable liquid could have been thrown at the train from outside.

"There has been a preponderance of evidence that the fire in coach number S6 originated in the coach itself without any external input," he said.

"The possibility of an inflammable liquid having been used is completely ruled out as there was first a smell of burning, followed by then smoke and flames thereafter."

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

He said the railway authorities had "pre-judged" the incident, and criticised them for not conducting a thorough inquiry.

'Politically motivated'

Justice Banerjee's investigation was set up by the Congress party-led government last summer after it won general elections in India.

There is one probe going on into the conspiracy angle and another criminal trial is in process - was there any need for another probe?
Arun Jaitley
Bharatiya Janata Party

The BJP, which was in power nationally and in Gujarat at the time of the riots, said the inquiry findings were "politically motivated".

Calling the report a disgrace, a spokesman said it was an unfortunate attempt to trivialise what he called one of the worst crimes in India.

Gujarat's inspector-general of police, Rakesh Asthana, also challenged the inquiry report.

He told the BBC the fire was an act of conspiracy and that at least 60 litres of petrol had been poured inside the compartment before burning rags were thrown in from outside.

He said forensic scientists in Gujarat backed the police findings.

The BJP and its chief minister in Gujarat, Narendra Modi, were criticised for not doing enough to restore order once the violence had begun.

Police were alleged to have simply refused to intervene or, in many cases, arrived too late to prevent attacks.

Only a handful of people have been found guilty in riot-related cases.

In 2003 the Supreme Court castigated the authorities for not delivering justice to victims. It has since moved one of the highest-profile riot court cases out of the state.

The riots were viewed by many as a serious challenge to India's record in protecting its minorities and left many Muslims feeling deeply insecure.

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