NEW DELHI: Two decades after serial blasts maimed Mumbai, the Supreme Court on Thursday commuted to life term the death sentence of 10 persons convicted by the trial court for planting bombs as part of the first-ever coordinated terror attack that left 257 dead and 713 injured.
The court upheld death penalty for Yakub Abdul Razak
Memon, the only one among the masterminds of the horrific terrorist crime – one of the deadliest internationally and the first one involving the use of RDX -- who could be tried.
Pronouncing its final verdict in the terrorist atrocity, plotted as an extension of communal violence that broke out in Mumbai in the wake of Babri demolition in December 1992, the apex court blamed Pakistan for encouraging and helping the terrorists.
In a unprecedentedly long judgment running into over 2,000 pages, a bench of Justices P Sathasivam and BS Chauhan said that while Yakub participated in the conspiracy with Tiger Memon
and Dawood Ibrahim
and deserved no leniency, the other 10, though responsible for placing explosive laden vehicles at several places, needed to be evaluated on a different plane as they belonged to lower strata of society and were sucked into the conspiracy to be used as “arrows” by the mastermind
“archers”. 33 get life term
Of another 19 sentenced to life imprisonment by the trial court, the apex court upheld the punishment for 17. Of the remaining two, the life sentence was reduced to 10 years imprisonment in one case, and to the period already served in the other.
Significantly, it allowed appeals of Maharashtra Police against acquittal of six accused and imposed life sentence on them. The six are Uttam S Potdar, Issaq Mohd Hajwane, Sharif Abdul Gafoor, Manoj Kumar
Bhanwarlal, Farooq Illiyas Motorwala and Mohd Rafiq Usman.
This brought the number of those sentenced to life in the case to 33. The court stressed that they will stay in jail for the rest
of their lives.
The bench also confirmed the sentence of customs officials and police personnel who facilitated the conspirators in return for bribes, and censured the Coast Guard for not being vigilant enough to block the shipments of arms and explosives that were used to attack Mumbai.
Commenting on the enormity of the crime, the judges said, “This was the first-ever terrorist attack in the world where RDX (Research Department Explosives) was used on a large scale basis after World War II.”
However, there were doubts that the verdict would bring closure to the victims of mass murder in Mumbai 20 years ago, considering that the masterminds — underworld
don Dawood Ibrahim, his brother Anees Ibrahim and Yakub Memon’s brother Tiger Memon — have not been brought to justice yet. By all indications, the three are leading a comfortable life in Pakistan which has sheltered them since the blasts.
In fact, the sense that justice had not been done may only be reinforced by what Justices Sathasivam and Chauhan said to justify the use of different approaches towards “mastermind” Yakub on the one hand, and the 10 “pawns” on the other. “Sentence should directly reflect the role of the accused in the crime,” the bench said.
It elaborated, “These 10 accused parked explosive filled vehicles in the respective destinations. However, if we lift the veil, it is actually the mastermind’s strategy, which was executed by the subservient minions. This may not help in complete exoneration of the liability of these 10 appellants but the degree of punishment must necessarily reflect this difference. It is vital to remember that but for the masterminds, these blasts should have never seen daylight. We contemplate that the ends of justice would be served if the death sentence of these 10 appellants be commuted to life imprisonment.”
Pronouncing the judgment, Justice Sathasivam read out its brief summary for more than 90 minutes, as a packed court room listened in rapt attention.
On Yakub, the bench said, “A perusal of the above confessions by the co-conspirators would show that the appellant (A-1) was playing a key role in furtherance of the above said conspiracy. The above evidence along with further material relied on by the prosecution show that A-1 also played an active role in generation and management of funds for achieving the object behind the conspiracy and in all subsequent events.”
It added, “Yakub left for Dubai on 11.03.1993 with an Indian passport and thereafter he entered Pakistan with a Pakistani passport. Though he was not one among the persons who carried arms and ammunition used for the blast but it was he who stood behind them from starting till the end, for example conspiracy, planning and making all the arrangements for sending certain persons to Pakistan for training in handling of arms and ammunition.
“We are satisfied that the prosecution has established all the charges leveled against Yakub and the designated court, after analyzing all the material including oral and documentary evidence and the independent witnesses, rightly convicted him.”
The other 10 given death sentence were Zakir Hussain
Noor Mohd Shaikh, Abdul Khan aka Yakub Khan Akhtar Khan, Firoz aka Akram Amani
Malik, Mohd Mustaq Moosa Tarani, Asgar Yusuf Mukadam, Shahnawaz Abdul Kadar Qureshi, Mohd Shoeb Mohd Kasam Ghanasar, Abdul Gani Ismail Turk, Parvez Nazir Ahmed
Shaikh and Mohd Farooq Mohd Yusuf.
The bench, however, was quick to add that lesser punishment to the co-accused would not be treated as a precedent. “The lesser sentence on these 10 appellants cannot be a precedent in other cases and every case must be decided according to their facts and circumstances,” it said and clarified that life sentence meant the convict has to spend his rest of the life in prison subject to the pardoning and remission powers of the President or governor of a state.
Immediately after demolition of Babri Masjid
on December 6, 1992, Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim, then living in Dubai, planned a terror strike in Mumbai. Dawood sent arms and ammunition from abroad and it was received by Tiger Memon, who also sent some of the accused persons to Dubai and from there to Pakistan for training in handling of arms and ammunition.
On March 12, 1993, in a span of about two hours – between 1.33pm to 3.40pm, a series of 12 bomb explosions took place one after the other at Bombay Stock Exchange
, Katha Bazaar, Sena Bhawan, Century Bazaar, Mahim Causeway, Air India
Building, Zaveri Bazaar, Hotel Sea Rock, Plaza Theatre, Juhu Centaur Hotel, Air Port Bay-54 and Air Port Centaur Hotel. In the blasts, 257 people were killed, 713 injured and property worth Rs 27 crore destroyed.