Delhi court acquits terror-accused convicts

New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on 22 November in a 16-year-old important case of terrorism acquitted two convicts who were earlier sentenced to death. The court said its verdict was forced by the Delhi Police’s “shoddy investigation” in the case. The judgment by a bench of Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and G P Mittal was pronounced after hearing the appeals filed by the convicts, Mohammad Naushad, Mohammad Ali Bhatt, Mirza Nisar Husain and Javed Ahmed Khan, all from Kashmir. While the court converted Mohammad Naushad’s death penalty into life term, it acquitted Nissar Hussain and Mohammad Ali Bhat while upholding the life sentence given to Javed Khan. In April 2010, a trial court had convicted them, heavily relying on the confessional statement of Javed Khan.

While pronouncing the judgment, the court observed, “In this case, unfortunately, the police has shown casualness… More often than not, it is such weaknesses and lapses which are the occasion for the State, in several cases, to complain that the Courts insist on an impossible standard of proof, and that the law has to be interpreted ‘realistically’ or ‘pragmatically’. It needs to be emphasized that the flaw is not in the law, or the standard of proof, which has, and will remain, proof ‘beyond reasonable doubt’; but in its understanding and implementation by the police force. In matters of liberty, the weakness of the State surely cannot be an excuse for lowering time-tested standards, especially in serious crimes, where the accused stand to forfeit their life, or at best, the most part of it.”  

Lambasting the Delhi Police, the Court said, “The prosecution’s role in conducting the appeals and references in a lackadaisical manner - initially assigning the references to an Additional Public Prosecutor, and only, upon the Court’s insistence, having regard to the gravity and public importance of the matter, instructing the Standing Counsel to appear and argue these cases, deserves to be highlighted. This Court recollects that in death references where the State seeks confirmation of the sentence it is the duty of the Standing Counsel to open the case. Having regard to the gravity and public importance of these matters, these cases too deserved no less. The casual approach in the conduct of these appeals and references, at the initial stages of hearing, therefore, has to be underlined.”

The Court further noted, “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 of articles and the accused, despite disclosure by the accused, about the places or shops from where articles were obtained, or in regard to publicly accessible shops, not recording the statements of vital witnesses and no explanation why PW-13 (who according to the prosecution was the conduit for the passage of arms and explosives, and whose house was a safe haven for other conspirators) was not arrested or charged, underline not only its lapses and inefficiencies, but also throw up question marks as to the nature and truthfulness of the evidence produced. Other aspects, such as complete absence of any Daily diary entries to corroborate the movement of the police, grave lapses, such as inability to collect the authenticated copies of reservation chart, record statement of witnesses in its support, and omission to collect details to prove telephone calls, all betray a slipshod approach.”

On 21 May 1996, a high intensity bomb blast had occurred at Delhi’s populated and overcrowded Lajpat Nagar market taking 13 innocent lives and injuring 38 people. The Police had claimed that this was carried out by militants of the Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front. A total number of 10 people were accused for the crime including a woman. The Police also give list of 201 witnesses. However, on 8 April, 2010 a trial court acquitted four, convicting six. One convict got seven years’ imprisonment while the lone woman convict got jail term of four years and two months.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2012 on page no. 1

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