Nearly 27 years after 13 people were killed and 38 injured in a bomb explosion at a bustling Lajpat Nagar market here, the Supreme Court on Thursday handed down life sentence to four convicts for the remainder of their lives without remission, saying they executed an international conspiracy to destabilise India by carrying out the blast.
The top court, which dwelt in detail on the severity of the offence, however, did not agree with the vehement plea of the prosecution that the convicts be awarded the death penalty for snuffing out innocent lives in the blast on May 21, 1996.
The bench comprising Justices B R Gavai, Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol, in its 190-page judgement, spared the four convicts -- Mohd Naushad, Mirza Nissar Hussain alias Naza, Mohd Ali Bhatt alias Killey and Javed Ahmed Khan -- the gallows on the ground of delay.
It said though the offence falls within the category of rarest of rare cases, the delay of 27 years in all and 14 years in the trial court in deciding the case are the mitigating circumstances in favour of the convicts.
The incident took place on May 21, 1996, i.e., approximately 27 years ago; the Trial Court awarded the sentence of death on April 22, 2010, i.e., more than 13 years ago; and the present accused acting at the behest of the principal conspirators; are all mitigating circumstances in not awarding the sentence of death even though it falls within the category of rarest of rare cases.
In view of the severity of the offence resulting in deaths of innocent persons and the role played by each accused person, all these accused persons are sentenced to imprisonment for life, without remission, extending to natural life. Accused, if on bail, are directed to immediately surrender before the Court concerned and their bail bonds stand cancelled,
It ordered convicts Mirza Nissar Hussain alias Naza and Mohd Ali Bhatt alias Killey, who were earlier acquitted by the Delhi High Court, to surrender to jail forthwith to serve the life term.
The top court was very critical of the delay in trial against the convicts and said it compromised the national interest.
The record reveals it is only on the prodding on the part of the judiciary that the trial could be completed after more than a decade. The delay, be it for whatever reason, attributable to the judge in-charge or the prosecution, has certainly compromised national interest, it said.
It said expeditious trial of such cases is the need of the hour, especially when it concerns national security and the common man.
Regrettably, enough vigilance was not displayed by the investigating as well as the judicial authorities. A prominent market in the heart of the capital city is attacked and we may point out that it has not been dealt with the required degree of promptitude and attention, it said.
Expressing dismay, the bench said it was forced to observe that this may be due to the involvement of influential persons which was evident from the fact that out of several accused only a few were put to trial.
In our considered view, the matter ought to have been handled with urgency and sensitivity at all levels, it said.
The verdict dealt with the circumstantial evidence and the facts relating to recovery and arrests of the convicts in minute details.
Having considered the circumstances alleged by the prosecution against the accused persons..., it is clear that the prosecution has proved the guilt of the accused in the commission of the crime. The last question which arises before us is - whether all these accused persons were part of a conspiracy under Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC? We find this question to be answered in the affirmative, the bench said.
It held that the blast was planned at the behest of other accused persons who remained elusive and were declared proclaimed offenders.
It is evident that all these accused were known to each other and were participating with the common objective to carry out the blast in Delhi in furtherance of an international conspiracy to cause disruptive activities in India. All the proven circumstances taken together form a chain of events that implicates the accused persons, it said.
Delhi police, initially, had filed the chargesheet against 17 people for their involvement in the blast.
Out of 17, one died and seven were declared as proclaimed offenders and never faced any trial. The remaining nine accused were tried.
The trial court had convicted six and handed down varying jail terms to them. It had awarded death penalty to three convicts -- Mohd Naushad, Mirza Nissar Hussain and Mohd. Ali Bhatt.
Only the four convicts had filed separate appeals in the Delhi High Court assailing the judgment of their conviction and sentence pronounced by the trial court.
The Delhi High Court had upheld the conviction of Mohd Naushad and Javel Ahmad Khan.
It had, however, commuted the sentence of death penalty to life term.
The high court had, however, acquitted Mirza Nissar Hussain and Mohd Ali Bhatt.
The top court held all the four guilty of various offences, including stealing a car for using it in the crime.
(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)