The Supreme Court today, commuted the death sentence of the two convicts involved in the 2002 American Center attack case in Kolkata. Commuting the sentence, the Bench comprising of Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice F.M.I Khalifulla commuted the mastermind- Aftab Ahmad Ansari's death sentence and ruled that he should undergo Rigorous Imprisonment for a minimum period of 30 years without any Remission. Upholding the conviction of both the convicts, the Bench said that for Jamulludin Nasir the punishment of death shall stand modified and he shall undergo imprisonment of life till the end of his life.
The petitioners had filed the appeal against Calcutta High Court's order, granting death penalty to both the convicts who had fired AK-47 assault rifle at policemen outside the American Center on Jawaharlal Nehru Road, on January 22, 2002, killing six policemen and injuring fourteen.
The crime had been planned beforehand; however it was committed with much more vehemence and vengeance in order to avenge the death of one of their gang members, Asif, who was killed in an encounter in Rajkot, in 2001. They allegedly wanted to teach a lesson to the Government of India and the Police Personnel, according to one of the emails exchanged between them.
Out of the 17 people involved in the commission of the crime, nine accused were tried by the trial court, which in 2005 found seven of them guilty. Ansari was found in Dubai and deported to India on 9.2.2002. The High Court of Calcutta, however, acquitted 2 of the convicts and lessened the sentence of two others. As far as the petitioners are concerned, the High Court confirmed their conviction and sentence.
Nasir, Asif, Ansari and other gang members had earlier planned to kidnap big businessmen in various cities to make money and so that they would be able to collect required arms and ammunition to carry out their mission. The American Centre was chosen as they found that American Centre would be more convenient as police security people were sitting in open and were not alert.
The appellants were represented by Ms. Nitya Ramakrishnan and the respondent State by the Additional Solicitor General. The appellant Nasir had earlier made a voluntary confession in 2002, making it clear that he was troubled by his conscience and to give vent to his feelings, namely, the sin which he committed by carrying out the attack at the American Centre on 22.02.2002 along with other gang members which he did in his own homeland, he was having sleepless nights. His reply to one of the questions was "I know. I have sinned and I deserve punishment."
The Court found that there was sufficient corroboration of contents of this confession by other evidence; oral, documentary and material objects relied upon by the Prosecution.
The appellants were found guilty of all charges, except for the charge under Section 27(3) of the Arms Act which couldn't be maintained because it was struck down as unconstitutional in the case of State of Punjab vs. Dalbir Singh – (2012) 3 SCC 346
The Bench considered the expression, "waging war against the Government" in detail. The Court thereby concluded that the intention of the accused collectively and individually was a defiant of raging attitude against the State. Though the chosen assailants by the conspirators were only two in number, the vengeance with which they indulged in the attack at the spot (viz) the American Centre towards the police force and the extent of damage they caused demonstrated the diabolic mindset of all the conspirators in committing the crime.
The Court formulated the following fundamental principles, besides 15 others, to be borne in mind while dealing with the sentence to be imposed in respect of crimes committed of such grotesque nature.
1) The sentence to be awarded should achieve twin objectives
2) The Court should consider social interest and consciousness of the society for awarding appropriate punishment.
3) Seriousness of the crime and the criminal history of the accused is yet another factor.
4) Graver the offence longer the criminal record should result severity in the punishment.
5) Undue sympathy to impose inadequate sentence would do more harm to the public
6) Imposition of inadequate sentence would undermine the public confidence in the efficacy of law and society cannot endure such threats.
The Court noted the magnitude of involvement of the two accused as being unequal, and held that the imposition of death penalty is not warranted in the facts and circumstances of the case though it calls for other deterrent punishment.
It was concluded that the object of the conspirators was to create a panic in the mind of the public at large and a horrendous threat to be felt by the State about the accused/assailants and all those who are behind such conspiracy. The consequence of such an attack also conveys an impression on the State to be on the alert always to face such and even more intense attacks in future which would pose a constant challenge to the State and the democratic Constitution.
The Court lastly conveyed that the act of the accused/assailants was not a mere desperate act of a small group, but was an act of higher magnitude with a clear object and determination to impinge on the SOVEREIGN AUTHORITY of the Nation and its Government.
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