SC reprieve for Sanjay Dutt has blasts convicts resentful

The Supreme Court yesterday granted actor Sanjay Dutt four more weeks to surrender and undergo his remaining prison term of 42 months in a case linked to the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts. Dutt had sought to defer his sentence to finish some Bollywood films. Apparently, the fate of projects worth Rs 278 crore is in limbo, with the actor headed for jail.

Cops stand guard outside Sanjay Dutt’s Pali Hill residence as media persons thronged outside. The Supreme Court has given the actor four weeks more to surrender, with his earlier deadline to surrender expiring today. Pic/Sameer Markande

But many jaws dropped at the month-long respite given to Dutt, including a few from the legal fraternity (see box). But mostly, it was a shocker to the families of the four convicted in the blasts case - Zaibunissa Qazi, Kersi Bapuji Adjania, Yusuf Khan, Ranjit Kumar Singh and Altaf Ali Sayed, whose review petitions were denied by the apex court a day before, on Tuesday.

The apex court had on March 21 upheld Dutt’s conviction for illegal possession of weapons but his jail sentence was reduced from six to five years. He, along with other convicts was given four weeks (until today) to surrender. The 53-year-old actor has already served 18 months in jail and has to serve the remaining three-and-a-half years.

Said convict Yusuf Khan, “I had filed the petition in person since I had no money to hire a lawyer. My petition was not even read in the court. I have no other door to knock on and no other option left. I have only a few hours left now, and I will abide by the court’s order and surrender by tomorrow morning.” A resident of Kurla, Khan was convicted last month for transporting RDX for the blasts. Even though the Supreme Court accepted that Khan did not know the content of the parcel he was transporting and was not involved in the conspiracy, it upheld the five-year sentence.

Zaibunissa Kazi’s mercy petition to review five years of rigorous imprisonment awarded to her in the same case was denied by the apex court. Her daughter Shagufta Kazi said, “The court has treated it (the petition) so unimportantly that it was not discussed in the chamber and not in the open court. Without any grounds or defence, the petition was rejected.” Some of those injured in the 1993 explosions, which had left 257 people dead, felt the respite granted to Dutt wasn’t fair to the other accused.

Kirti Ajmera, a resident of Marve Road in Malad, had narrowly escaped death on March 12, 1993. He said, “Dutt and the other accused were given a month’s time to surrender. And there was no question of extension. The Supreme Court has reduced his sentence by one year. If he is counting on commitments to buy time, he should realise that each one of us has some or the other obligation. Since he was aware that he would be behind bars some day or the other, he shouldn’t have taken so many commitments.” Kirti, who then worked at the Bombay Stock Exchange, was one of the victims injured in the blast.

>> Dutt had been introduced to Dawood and his brother Anees while shooting for a film in Dubai. He had then established contact with Anees, asking him to provide weapons, purportedly for his protection.¬†On January 15, 1993, Samir Hingora and Hanif Kandawala, owners of Magnum videos, along with Ibrahim Chauhan alias Baba and don Abu Salem came to Dutt’s Pali Hill residence and told him they would deliver the weapons he had requested the next day.

>> Three AK-56 rifles, 250 rounds of ammunition and some hand grenades were then brought by car to Dutt’s residence. On January 18, on Dutt’s request, Mansoor Ahmed, another accused in the case, took some of the weapons and ammunition away.

>> While shooting in Mauritius, Dutt learnt that he was under the radar for possession of weapons. Dutt, who later said that he had kept the weapons at the residence of his friend Yusuf Nalwala, then requested Nalwala to destroy the weapons. Nalwala later led police to Kersi Adajania, his friend, who had allegedly helped destroy the weapons.

>> Upon his return to India, Dutt was arrested under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) on charges of possessing illegal arms and having contacts with the main conspirators of Mumbai blast.

>> Defending Dutt, senior advocate Haresh Salve had urged the court to take ‘judicial notice’ of the state of affairs in the city after the Babri Masjid demolition, and pointed out that the legislature never intended to cover people like Dutt when it passed TADA.

Tweet talk
@ramyamt Just because Sanjay Dutt has movies to do he gets mercy!! #shame
@RaisinaSeries Arnab going great guns,says according to the Supreme Court's logic, if Sanjay Dutt ws a flop actor with no movies he wld be in jail tmrw! KP
@rohitkhilnani So if this is not a 'rich man poor man' issue then it's all about having a good / top lawyer, which common man can't have.
@georgenitin1984 Sanjay Dutt does not deserve any special treatment!!! All criminals are the same...

The anguish of Zaibunissa’s family members is understandable. Zaibunissa, a convict like Dutt, had her own positive and negative side in the case. The positive aspect was that she is a woman, a senior citizen and a sick person, while Dutt isn’t any of these. On the other side, she is a convict under certain provisions of TADA, while Dutt was exonerated of all the charges under the stringent Act. The grounds available to Zaibunissa may sound good for a mercy petition but not for extension of time to surrender. If she gets further time to surrender and serve her sentence, she would grow older and her fitness may further deteriorate. Therefore, her prayer for deferring the date of her arrest may not sound valid on these grounds.

It appears that the plea of Zaibunissa and two other elderly convicts before the Supreme Court was more in the nature of review or mercy petition than seeking extension of time to surrender. Had Dutt also sought review of the case or pardon for the offence, he would have met a similar fate.
- Majid Memon, senior lawyer

In law, there is nothing wrong with giving an extension. The Supreme Court has extraordinary powers under the Constitution. However, in my opinion the very purpose of granting the extension was so that Dutt could complete his films. This purpose in any case will not be served by an extension of just one month. Therefore, I think the extension is absurd, unwarranted and unjustified.
- Subhash Jha, criminal lawyer

It is a sad state of affairs. There are people with genuine medical grounds who are not granted relief, such as Zaibunissa Kazi and Abdul Parkar. But what can we say? It is ultimately up to the court.
- Farhana Shah, defence lawyer

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