Lajpat Nagar blast: SC sentences four accused to life imprisonment

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The Supreme Court sentenced four people on Thursday to life in prison for carrying out a deadly bomb blast in Delhi’s prominent marketplace of Lajpat Nagar in 1996, Hindustan Times reported.

The bench held that the death of 13 innocent people in the blast made it a “rarest of rare” crime that deserved the death penalty, but lamented that the long delay in the trial compromised national interest and led the court to impose a less severe punishment.

Among the four who were sentenced to life were Mirza Nissar Hussain and Mohammad Ali Bhatt, who had been acquitted by the Delhi high court in November 2012. A bench of justices BR Gavai, Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol ordered them to surrender immediately. The top court also upheld the life sentences awarded to the other two convicts, Mohammad Naushad and Javed Ahmed Khan, by the Delhi high court.

“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,” the 190-page judgment concluded.

Naushad was sentenced to death by the trial court in April 2010, but the high court commuted his sentence to life in prison, and Khan was sentenced to life imprisonment by both the trial court and the high court.

The blast took place on 21 May  1996, when a bomb placed inside a stolen Maruti car by the convicts exploded, killing 13 people and injuring 38 others.

“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,” Justice Karol said, writing the judgment for the bench.

The court noted with dismay that the trial court verdict for an incident that occurred 27 years ago came in April 2010, more than 13 years ago, and inquired whether the involvement of influential people was a factor in the delay. Several suspects named as principal conspirators in the crime, including underworld don Ibrahim Abdul Razak Memon alias Tiger Memon, have remained at large to this day.

“The delay, for whatever reason, whether attributable to the judge in charge or the prosecution, has certainly compromised national interest,” the bench observed, underlining that expeditious trial of such cases was the need of the hour, especially when it concerns national security and the common man.

“In our considered view, the matter ought to have been handled with urgency and sensitivity at all levels…enough vigilance was not displayed by the investigating as well as the judicial authorities.” All of this added up to “mitigating circumstances” for the court not to award the death penalty, despite the fact that the case was found to be among the rarest of rare cases.

The top court meticulously examined the evidence presented by the Delhi police led by then additional solicitor general Sanjay Jain and going by the arguments in support of the accused submitted by senior advocate Siddharth Dave and advocate Kamini Jaiswal before reversing the acquittal awarded by the Delhi high court to two of the convicts.

“Based on evaluation of the evidence on record, including Javed Ahmed Khan’s judicial confession, it is clear that all these accused persons knew each other and were working together to carry out the Delhi blast in furtherance of an international conspiracy to cause disruption in India. All of the proven circumstances, when taken together, form a chain of events that implicates the accused persons,” the court observed.

Despite the fact that the Delhi high court found several gaps in the prosecution case against the two convicts, Hussain and Bhatt, the Supreme Court examined the case and determined that Hussain specifically travelled from Kathmandu to Delhi and had knowledge of shops where various incriminating materials used in the preparation of the bomb were purchased. He even revealed a failed plot to carry out the attack two days before the incident on May 19 when the battery failed.

In the case of Bhatt, the court determined his involvement in the preparation of the bomb until its execution, and that he had a greater role to play on the day when the bomb failed to explode. “We cannot ignore that it is his contribution in rectifying the defects along with other co-accused persons as is proved through the confessional statement of A9 (Javed) that actually culminated in a ghastly occurrence where people lost their lives,” the bench observed.

The court had no doubt that the incident was part of an international conspiracy against India, and the convicts would have dared to carry out further attacks if they hadn’t been apprehended by the police.

Soon after the incident, the Delhi police registered a case and named 17 accused people, one of whom died and seven of whom were declared proclaimed offenders who never faced trial. The remaining nine accused were tried under different penal provisions of the law, including murder and criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code and the Explosive Substances Act.

The trial court sentenced three to death, one to life imprisonment, and two to lesser sentences and acquitted the remaining accused.

The prosecution did not appeal the acquittal, but the convicted accused took their cases to the Delhi high court, which convicted only two people, with Mohammad Naushad’s death sentence commuted to life in prison and Javed’s life sentence upheld. The remaining two who were sentenced to death by the trial court were acquitted by the high court and must now surrender to spend the rest of their lives in prison. (Live Law)

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