New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday commuted the death sentence of a militant, who was involved in the 1997 mass killing at Jarulbachai village in Tripura in which 15 people were shot dead and four others injured.
The apex court, however, fixed his jail term of 20 years without remission, over the period already undergone.
"While altering the death sentence to that of imprisonment for life, we are inclined to fix the term of imprisonment as 20 years without remission, over and above the period of sentence already undergone, which, in our view, would meet the ends of justice," a bench of justices KS Radhakrishnan and Vikramajit Sen said.
"The appellant is a tribal, stated to be a member of the extremist group raging war against the minority settlers, apprehending perhaps they might snatch away their livelihood and encroach upon their properties, possibly such frustration and neglect might have led them to take arms, thinking they are being marginalised and ignored by the society," the bench said.
"Viewed in that perspective, we are of the view that this is not a rarest of rare case for awarding death sentence," it said.
The court passed the order on an appeal filed by convict Ashok Debbarma challenging Agartala bench of Gauhati High Court upholding death sentence awarded by trial court.
A group of about 35 militants of the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) raided the Jarulbachai village in West Tripura district around 11 pm on 11 February, 1997 and set afire many huts.
When the villagers came out of their blazing huts, the ultras opened indiscriminate firing from automatic weapons killing 15 people and injuring four others.
Later the CID filed a charge sheet against 16 insurgents, but 11 of them were absconding.
Additional and Session Judge of West Tripura district released three of the rest five insurgents unconditionally as no evidence was found against them.
Meanwhile, the two accused Ashok Debbarma and Gandhi Debbarma managed to flee from police custody before the verdict. The police later arrested Ashok, who was sentenced to death.