The Supreme Court on Thursday sentenced actor Sanjay Dutt to five years’ rigorous imprisonment under the Arms Act, reducing the six-year term awarded by the designated court in Mumbai for the serial bomb blasts in 1993. He must surrender within four weeks.
In six sets of judgments running to nearly 2,000 pages, a two-judge bench also confirmed the death sentence awarded to Yakub Memon. He was convicted of providing explosives and weapons to others to carry out the blasts that killed 257 people and injured 713. He has been in jail since he returned to India and surrendered in 1994.
The bench of judges P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment in 10 cases. This was because these convicts only carried out orders from above; they came from poor backgrounds and had already spent nearly 20 years in jail. The court also upheld life terms of 16 of 18 convicts sentenced by the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) court. (CASE DIARY)
Dutt had already undergone 18 months of imprisonment before he was released on bail in November 2007, pending an appeal in the Supreme Court. Now, he will have to return to jail to serve three-and-a-half years. Though he was charged with conspiracy and other charges, he was convicted only for possessing three automatic rifles and a pistol that had been supplied to him by the main actors in the killings.
Dutt had made a confession that mafia don Abu Salem visited his home in January that year, with some other members of the underworld but he retracted it. However, the court said the retraction was not trustworthy and it would not be safe to rely on it.
The court pointed fingers at Pakistan for its role in the blasts. According to one judgment, the convicts were trained in that country and the planning was done by underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and others. Pakistan’s agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, was also involved. “Yakub Memon and all absconding accused, including Dawood Ibrahim, were archers and the rest of the accused were arrows in their hands,” the Supreme Court said. The court also blamed the city police, Customs and Coast Guard for the slack role they played in the tragedy.
The Supreme Court spent 10 months to go through the massive evidence in the appeals and for the first time allowed all parties to provide electronic data during the hearings. This is a landmark in the judicial history of the country. It would have been impossible to complete the hearings within a reasonable time, if documents on paper were to be examined. The hearing concluded in August last year.
In December 2006, a hundred accused were convicted and 23 acquitted by the designated TADA court. Twelve were awarded capital punishment, while 20 others got life sentence. Scores of appeals were filed in the Supreme Court, including some by the Maharashtra government.