In the past few days there has been heated debate over the conviction of Hindi moviestar Sanjay Dutt in the 1993 Bombay serial bomb blast case by the Supreme Court (SC). Dutt, brother of Congress MP Priya Dutt has been convicted by the Supreme Court for acquiring, possessing arms & ammunition, explosives in contravention of the law.
The SC has held in its judgment that the blasts were masterminded by various elements of the underworld with the support of ISI as retribution for the Bombay Riots of 1992. Dutt, one of the 100 judged guilty, has been convicted under the Arms Act, 1959 but has been acquitted in the conspiracy of the blasts under TADA (Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act).
March 12, 1993: Mumbai devastated by 12 bomb blasts between 1:33 pm to 3:40 pm that left around 257 people dead and injured another 700. Property worth Rs.30 crore was damaged in the blasts. The blasts severely rocked Bombay Stock Exchange building, Air-India Building at Nariman Point, Worli opposite Century Bazaar, Hotels Sea Rock and Juhu Centaur among other pivotal city points.
April 19, 1993: Police nabbed Dutt upon his arrival from Mauritius, saying an AK-56 rifle found in his house was from the consignment of arms smuggled into India before the blasts. The actor was arrested for illegal possession of firearms acquired from terrorist acquaintances who were responsible for the blasts.
April 26, 1993: Dutt admits to the charges in his confession. But later retracts. A TADA court had later sentenced 20 people to life imprisonment and 46 others, including Dutt were given varying terms of imprisonment.
May 3, 1993: Dutt was released on bail by the Bombay High Court.
July 4, 1994: Trial court cancels Dutt’s bail and he is arrested again.
October 16, 1995: After spending nearly 16 months in jail, Dutt again gets bail on hearing a letter written by him to the Chief Justice from jail. The letter was converted into a petition.
November 27, 2006: TADA court delivering verdict in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case summons Dutt.
November 28, 2006: Dutt is found guilty under Arms Act but is acquitted in all cases related to TADA.
March 21, 2013: The Supreme Court sentences Dutt to 5-year jail term.
Evidence before Court:
Dutt has been convicted under various Provisions of Arms Act, 1950, namely under Sections 3 and 7 read with Sections 25(1-A) and (1-B)(a) of the Arms Act, 1959 and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment (RI) for 6 years along with a fine of Rs. 25,000/-, in default, to further undergo RI for a period of 6 months.
Per the SC Judgment, Dutt’s confession recorded under Section 15 of TADA 26.04.1993 (later retracted) was held to be valid. In that confession it is broadly stated that he was already in possession of three licensed firearms.
He had developed acquaintance with Anees Ibrahim – brother of Dawood Ibrahim during a film shooting in Dubai through Feroze Khan. He expressed his desire to Samir Hingora and Hanif Kandawala to acquire an automatic firearm. The underworld then handed over 3 AK 56 Rifles, 250 Rounds or Bullets & 20 Hand Grenades.
Is there a case for pardon of Sanjay Dutt?
After the above confession it seems clear that though Dutt was in contact with known criminals and conspirators of the Bombay blast of 1993 his specific role in criminal conspiracy under TADA could not be established. Hence he was only convicted for acquiring & possession of Arms & Ammunitions under the Arms Act, 1959.
Many have been vehemently arguing that 5 years of imprisonment is too high now and Dutt should be shown leniency as he was not involved in the terror plot.
Before going into the legal aspects of a pardon of a convict by a governor one needs to reflect on the argument. Justice Katju’s argument that he promoted Gandhigiri is stupid because, then Dutt must be convicted for notorious crimes he committed in other films such as Vaastav or Khalnayak.
Coming to the arguments advanced by the film fraternity about his ‘good conduct’, the said arguments were put up before the SC. He contends that he acquired arms for protection of family in view of riots like in 1992, that he had no knowledge of the conspiracy, he was not a habitual offender and he had already suffered the agony of a 13 year trial. His marriage and his child were also mentioned.
On the above grounds he demanded (under Sections 3 and 4 of Probation Of Offenders Act, 1968) that the court may acquit him or remit his sentence subject to conditions as prescribed by the court.
The SC after considering facts & circumstances of Dutt’s case, plea in affidavits, came to a conclusion that:
“The circumstances and the nature of the offence as analysed and discussed above are so serious and we are of the view that they do not warrant A-117 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.” (Para 86)
It is amply clear that Dutt took all the pleas under relevant laws before the SC. The court after considering the nature of crime rejected the plea (but gave him a relief of 1 year). Since he had served 16 months already as an under trial he would not have to serve the entire conviction time.
Now it is worth pointing out that the pro-pardon arguments are flawed to the extent that they don’t see that he was liberally let off and acquitted for charges under TADA.
Though many would argue that there was no evidence to point to his role in the conspiracy, reports mention how he was let off under TADA while other accused like Zabunissa Kazi, Samir Hingora and Baba Mussa Chauhan were convicted under TADA.
TADA envisages similar provisions as in Arms Act of 1959: i.e. a minimum of 5 year imprisonment for procurement and possession of arms, ammunitions or explosives. I leave it to the reader to dwell upon why Dutt was not convicted under TADA.
The observation of the Court in Para 72 of the Judgment is interesting:
“….It is not in dispute that though the appellant was also charged under TADA Act, the fact remains that he was acquitted of those charges and admittedly the CBI has not filed an appeal against the same…”
It is clearly established that he had links with the masterminds of the 1993 Bombay blasts, and that he procured arms against the law.
The demand for clemency and pardon from the Governor are being made under Article 161 of the Constitution of India. The article gives discretionary power to the Governor on the lines of the powers of the President under Article 72: to pardon, remit or reduce sentence of any death or life imprisonment convicts. This power is an executive power different from a judicial one but it cannot be exercised arbitrarily.
In Maru Ram & Ors. v. Union of India & Ors. [AIR 1980 SC 2147] Krishna Iyer J, speaking for the Constitution Bench, held that although the power under Articles 72 and 161 were very wide, it could not “run riot”. The Apex Court held that no legal power can run amok like John Gilpin on the horse, but “must keep sensibly to a steady course”.
In Swaran Singh v. State of U.P. & Ors. [AIR 1998 SC 2026], a three-Judge Bench held that “this Court has no power to touch the order passed by the Governor under Article 161 of the Constitution. If such power was exercised arbitrarily, mala fide or in absolute disregard of the finer canons of the constitutionalism, the by-product order cannot get the approval of law and in such cases, the judicial hand must be stretched to it.”(para 12 at p. 2028).
There may or may not be a pardon from the Governor. But the fact that it is being raised, in itself makes for rather ugly imagery where a celebrity is able to seek privileges using his social status and connections.
Image courtesy: Times of India