6 July 2023 7:15 AM GMT
The Supreme Court of India on Thursday upheld the conviction of two accused in the 1996 Lajpat Nagar bomb blast case and sentenced them to life imprisonment without remission. The convictions of two other former death row convicts who were discharged by the Delhi High Court were also restored and they were awarded life sentences extending to the rest of their natural lives. A bench...
The Supreme Court of India on Thursday upheld the conviction of two accused in the 1996 Lajpat Nagar bomb blast case and sentenced them to life imprisonment without remission. The convictions of two other former death row convicts who were discharged by the Delhi High Court were also restored and they were awarded life sentences extending to the rest of their natural lives.
A bench of Justices BR Gavai, Vikram Nath, and Sanjay Karol was hearing the appeals preferred by Mohammed Naushad and Javed Ahmed Khan against their conviction and sentence, as well the special leave petitions by the State challenging the Delhi High Court’s decision to commute Naushad’s death sentence – awarded by a local court in Delhi – to that of life imprisonment, and acquit two death row convicts Mirza Nissar Hussain and Mohammed Ali Bhatt. This batch of appeals has been pending before the apex court for over a decade.
27 years after the terror attack, the Supreme Court has finally decided the fate of the four convicts. While the division bench dismissed the appeals filed by Naushad and Khan for overturning their conviction and allowed the State’s plea, it refused to restore the death sentences awarded by the lower court. The bench observed:
“Even though it is the rarest of the rare case, nonetheless considering several factors, we impose a sentence of imprisonment without remission extending to natural life. The accused, if on bail, are directed to immediately surrender. A5 (Mirza Nissar Hussain) and A6 (Mohammed Ali Bhatt) are directed to surrender.”
In 1996, a bomb blast rocked Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar Central Market, claiming the lives of 13 people and injuring 38 others, besides causing much damage to property. A few days later, the Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front (JKIF) – designated as a ‘terrorist organisation’ under Section 35 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 – claimed responsibility for the attack. According to the charge sheet, the conspiracy, spearheaded by JKIF chief Bilal Ahmed Beg and involving the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was hatched in Pakistan. Not only did the Delhi Police book six suspected Kashmiri militants, and two others, including a woman, but also named mafia dons Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Menon as accused in the bomb blast.
In April 2010, a local court in Delhi awarded the death penalty to three out of the six convicted members – Mohammed Naushad, Mohammed Ali Bhatt (alias Killey) and Mirza Nissar Hussain (alias Naza) – noting that their complicity in the grave offence warranted the imposition of the capital punishment. Apart from this, Additional Sessions Judge SP Garg sentenced another convict, Javed Ahmed Khan, alias Chhota Javed, to imprisonment for life, while two others held guilty of milder charges – Farooq Ahmed Khan and Farida Dar – were released, given time already served during the trial.
16 years after the blast, in November 2012, the appeals by the four convicts who were sent to jail and a reference by the police for confirmation of the death sentences were decided by the Delhi High Court. A division bench of the high court slammed the police for ‘grave prosecution lapses’ in the investigation, observing, “The nature of grave prosecution lapses, in regard to various issues such as lack of proof connecting some of the accused with the bomb incident, failure to hold TIP (Test Identification Parade) of articles and the accused…not recording the statements of vital witnesses…underline not only its lapses and inefficiencies, but also throw up a question mark as to the nature and truthfulness of the evidence produced.”
The bench, comprising Justices S Ravindra Bhat and GP Mittal, after making this observation, proceeded to acquit death row convicts Mirza Nissar Hussain and Mohammed Ali Bhatt and commute the death sentence of Mohammed Naushad to life imprisonment. However, the life term awarded by the lower court to Javed Ahmed Khan was upheld.
The two lifers then challenged their conviction and sentences before the Supreme Court, while the State filed a special leave petition seeking the restoration of the capital sentence awarded by the sessions court. In April 2013, the top court issued notice in the batch of appeals, and in September 2016, the matter was placed before a three-judge bench by an order of the court.