New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday drew the final curtain on the March 12, 1993, Mumbai serial blasts case as it upheld the death sentence of Yakub Abdul Razak Memon, a key conspirator with Dawood Ibrahim in the case, and ordered that Bollywood superstar Sanjay Dutt to serve three-and-a-half years sentence for possessing illegal arms.
Bringing the curtain down on the 20-year-long judicial proceedings, the apex court said 33 others will serve rigorous jail term "for their whole life" and termed as "devastating" the role played by Pakistan and its spy agency ISI in training and supporting conspirators in hatching the plot for the blasts in the financial capital claiming 257 lives.
The bench of justices P Sathasivam and BS Chauhan, however, commuted the sentence of death penalty of 10 others, who had planted RDX explosives-laden vehicles at various places in Mumbai, awarded by the special TADA court, to life term by distinguishing their roles with that of the Memon.
"...We confirm the death reference with regard to Yakub Abdul Razak Memon and commute the death sentence into life imprisonment for rest (ten) of the appellants convicted under this part," said the bench, which delivered its judgement in six parts running into 2,198 pages.
53-year-old Dutt, who is out on bail, will also have to surrender within four weeks to serve a jail term of 42 months as the apex court reduced to five years the six year jail term awarded to him by a designated TADA court in 2007 and he had already spent 18 months behind the bar.
Dutt, son of famous Bollywood couple late Sunil Dutt and Nargis, was convicted by the TADA court for illegal possession of a 9 mm Pistol and a AK-56 rifle which was part of the consignment of weapons and explosives brought to India for the coordinated serial blasts.
The court refused to grant leniency to Dutt for releasing him under probation, saying the nature of offence was `serious"
"The circumstances and nature of the offence as analysed and discussed above are so serious and we are of the view that they do not warrant Dutt the benefit of the provisions of the Probation of Offenders Act. However, taking note of various aspects, we reduce the sentence to minimum period, viz., 6 years to 5 years. The appeal is disposed of on the above terms," the bench said.
Dealing with case of Yakub Memon, a chartered accountant by profession and brother of proclaimed offender Tiger Memon, the court said he was the "driving force" and a "mastermind" behind the blasts that rocked 12 crowded areas in Mumbai leaving 257 dead and over 700 injured.
The court also said the ten other convicts on death row were people of lower strata in the society and were without any regular jobs and had fallen prey to the main conspirators for their "hidden motives".
"Since Memon as well as other absconders (Dawood and others) were the real conspirators who hatched the scheme for such a tragic act, the 10 appellants were mere subservient subordinates whose knowledge and acquaintance might have been restricted to their counterparts. If we say it in a metaphoric style, he (Yakub) and all the absconding accused were the archers whereas rest of the appellants were the arrows in their hands," it said.
"Technically, it is these 10 appellants who parked the explosive filled vehicles in the respective destinations, however, if we do lift the veil it is actually the mastermind’s strategy, which was executed by the subservient minions, ie the appellants. This may not help in complete exoneration of the liability of these 10 appellants but the degree of punishment must necessarily reflect this difference. It is vital to remember that `but for` the masterminds, this blast should have never seen the daylight," it said.
The bench, perusing confessional statements of convicts, said Pakistan provided "green channel entry and exit" to various accused without observing any immigration formalities and gave training to use explosives and arms to the accused.
"The accused arrived in Pakistan for training and they were received by ISI operatives who took them out of the airport without observing any immigration formalities. Meaning thereby, they had a green channel entry and exit in Pakistan. Another confession reveals that they received training from the ISI officials themselves on some occasions. These events unveil the tolerance and encouragement shown by Pakistan towards terrorism," it said.
The court said the accused received training in making of
bombs by using RDX and other explosives, handling of automatic weapons like AK-56 Rifles and hand grenades in Pakistan which was "organized and methodically carried out by Dawood Ibrahim, Anees Ibrahim, Mohd Dossa and Salim Bismillah Khan (since deceased)".
"The training received in Pakistan materialized in the unfortunate serial blasts in Bombay, India on March 12, 1993. A responsible state owes an obligation not only to another state but also to the international community as a whole. We sincerely hope that every State will strive towards the same," the bench said.
Besides commuting the death sentence of ten convicts to life term, the court also awarded rigorous life imprisonment to 25 others, out of which, four were earlier acquitted by the special TADA court.
The 10 convicts whose death sentence was commuted to life term were -- Abdul Gani Ismail Turk, Parvez Nazir Ahmed Shaikh, Mushtaq Tarani, Asghar Mukadam, Shahnawaz Qureshi, Shoaib Ghansar, Firoze Amani Malki, Zakir Hussain, Abdul Akhtar Khan and Farooq Pawale.
The TADA court, in November 2006, had convicted 100 out of 123 accused in the case. While 12 were awarded death penalty, 20 others got the life term and rest 68 got varying jail terms under various provisions of the anti-terror law, IPC and other relevant penal laws.
Out of 100 convicts, two died during the pendency of the case in the apex court which was approached by various convicts and the CBI against the judgement of the lower court.
The Supreme court, which acquitted two persons, upheld conviction of 84 others in the case and directed those out on bail to surrender in four weeks to serve their remaining jail terms.
The court, in its judgement, rejected Yakub`s plea that
his death penalty be commuted to life term as he has faced 20- year long protracted judicial proceedings.
"The sentence can’t be commuted merely on the ground of delay alone....No absolute or unqualified rule can be laid down that in every case in which there is a long delay in the execution of death sentence, the sentence must be substituted by the sentence of life imprisonment," the bench said while referring to its earlier verdict.
"Thus no accused can claim as a matter of right to commute his/her death sentence on the ground of delay in the judicial process. However, noting the lengthy incarceration suffered by the accused over a period of two decades, as an exceptional scenario, we are inclined to consider the long delay as a mitigating circumstance but less significance will be attached to them...," it said.
The bench also clarified that the convicts, undergoing life imprisonment, are expected to remain in custody till death.
"A convict undergoing life imprisonment is expected to remain in custody till the end of his life, subject to any remission granted by the appropriate Government under relevant sections.
With PTI inputs