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Jaitley questions credibility of report

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, JAN. 18. The former Law Minister and general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Arun Jaitley, today questioned the credibility of the interim report of the Banerjee committee on the Godhra train fire.

Did the Banerjee Committee consider the evidence that 140 litres of petrol had been purchased from a nearby petrol pump at Godhra on the night of February 26, 2002 and kept at the Aman Guest House? Did it consider the evidence that two meetings took place the same night at the same guest house where the ``conspiracy'' to set alight the S-6 coach was hatched?, Mr. Jaitley asked.

Asked about the veracity of the evidence, Mr. Jaitley said "this was the evidence presented by the police in court" and that he "was not getting into the merit of the evidence." Contrary to the findings of the report, Mr. Jaitley maintained that some men, who had got into the train through the S-7 coach, threw an inflammable liquid into the S-6 coach from near the toilets just outside.

Defending the former Railway Minister and Janata Dal (United) leader, Nitish Kumar, for not visiting the accident site, Mr. Jaitley said, ``he could not have contributed anything by visiting the site since it was a law and order problem.'' He came down heavily on Mr. Justice Banerjee (retd.) for not talking to the head of the Special Investigation Team or getting the reports of the Gujarat forensic laboratory before making public his report.

Mr. Jaitley said that since Mr. Nitish Kumar was the political rival of the Railway Minister and Rashtriya Janata Dal president, Lalu Prasad, it seemed that Mr. Kumar's name had been dragged into the report. Mr. Jaitley wondered what relevance did the absence of Mr. Nitish Kumar have that the Banerjee Committee report felt impelled to mention it. It was ``plain politics.'' The report had ``no legal basis and was legally unenforceable and was of no consequence,'' and, therefore, there was no need to challenge it. "It is an instrument of political propaganda."

The presence of a mob just outside the Godhra railway station demolished the ``accident theory'' of the Banerjee Committee, he said.

The other questions posed by Mr. Jaitley were: "Why did you [Mr. Justice Banerjee] head a department inquiry of the Railways on a matter where a criminal trial and a Commission of Inquiry are pending? Why was the Chief Justice of India not consulted or asked to suggest the name of the retired judge? Why was the Interim Report given during the election period even though the term of the committee had been extended to March 3, 2005?"

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