LN Mishra case: SC angry over protracted trial

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday expressed anguish at the 37 years of delay in the trial relating to the murder of then Union Railway Minister LN Mishra at Samastipur, Bihar, and the attempt on then Chief Justice of India AN Ray in Delhi by alleged Anand Margis.

A bench of justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai directed the Delhi High Court to record afresh the statement of Vikram, approver for CBI on whose confessional statements accused Santoshanand Avadhoot and Sudevanand Avadhoot were awarded 10 years rigorous imprisonment and advocate Ranjan Dwivedi was sentenced to four years RI by the trial court.

The convicts have challenged their conviction on the ground that CBI's approver Vikram had retracted his confession.

"Before parting with the record of the case, we are constrained to say that we are distressed beyond words to find that the case relating to the attempt on the life of the CJI remains stuck up at the stage of the appeal even after about 37 years of the occurrence. We are informed that the other case of the killing of Shri LN Mishra is still mired before the trial court, the bench said.

On March 20, 1975, at about 4.15 p.m. when the car in which Justice A N Ray, the Chief Justice of India, was travelling along with his son Ajoy Nath Ray, head constable Jai Nand and driver Inder Singh, two hand grenades were lobbed inside the car on Bhagwan Das Road in central Delhi, which they escaped as the explosives failed to go off.

About two and a half months before the incident, L N Mishra, the then Railway Minister, was killed in a bomb blast place during a function on the platform of Samastipur Railway station.

CBI had arrested the four persons and one of the accused Vikram, who turned an approver, made a confessional statement that Mishra's killing and the attempt on the life Justice Ray were part of a larger conspiracy of the organization.

At the conclusion of the trial, the Additional Sessions Judge, Delhi, had on October 28, 1976, convicted Sudevanand and Santoshanand and sentenced them to 10 yrs RI for attempting to kill Justice Ray.

Ranjan Dwivedi was sentenced to 4 years rigorous imprisonment for conspiracy.

However, on August 30, 1978, the then Chief Minister of Bihar wrote a confidential letter to the Prime Minister , upon which the Bihar CID recorded a fresh statement of Vikram in which he retracted the confession implicating the three convicts.

The LN Mishra case was subsequently transferred to Delhi by the apex court.

However, more than 20 years after Vikram's retraction the convicts filed appeals in the Delhi High Court challenging their conviction.

But on November 22, 2006, the high court dismissed their plea as it was "filed after a lag of more than 20 years."

Aggrieved, the trio appealed in the apex court.

Upholding their appeal, the apex court said "not only Vikram, who is making diametrically opposite statements, but CBI and the state (CID) seem to be at loggerheads with the one accusing the other of manipulating and using Vikram for its own designs.

"It is an unusual case by any reckoning. It is very difficult to say at this stage which of the statements is true and which of the statements was made under the influence, threat or coercion by the state officials or CBI, "Justice Alam, writing the judgment, said.

The apex court said the position may be clear in case he is subjected to further examination with reference to his statement made in Danapur jail on September 30, 1978.

The apex court rejected CBI's contention that once a conviction was recorded on the basis of an approver's statement, no appeal was maintainable on the ground of subsequent retraction.

"Take the case where, on the testimony of the approver, a person is convicted by the trial court under Section 302 and 120-B etc. of the Penal Code and is sentenced to a life term.

"After the judgment and order passed by the trial court and while the convict’s appeal is pending before the High Court, the approver is found blabbering and boasting among his friends that he was able to take the Court for a ride and settled his personal score with the convict by sending him to jail to rot at least for 14 years.

"Such a statement would also be completely beyond the legal framework but can it be said that in light of such a development the convicted accused may not ask the High Court for recalling the Approver for further examination," the bench said while directing the high court to record Vikram's statement afresh.