Friday, 23 November 2012

HC sets free 2 Delhi blast accused on death row

HC sets free 2 Delhi blast accused on death row
Clean Media Correspondent

NEW DELHI, Nov 22 (CMC) The Delhi High Court on Thursday set free two men facing death row for the 1996 Lajpat Nagar market blast, saying the Delhi Police had failed to furnish even the "minimum standards of proof" in the case.

A trial court had awarded death to three persons and sentence another to a life term for carrying out the blast in which 13 people had died and 38 were injured.

An HC division bench comprising Justices S Ravindra Bhat and G P Mittal, however, tore apart the police story, saying the probe was "inefficient", "casual" and "slipshod". The bench added that the trial court had "glossed over" these deficiencies while sentencing the accused.

The court acquitted Mirza Nissar Hussain and Mohd Ali Bhatt alias Kille, both arrested soon after the blast in 1996. The two were dubbed militants of the Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front (JKIF) and awarded the death sentence by the trial court.

The high court also upturned the death penalty for another accused, Mohd Naushad, converting it to a life term. It, however, upheld the life sentence given to Javed Ahmad Khan alias Chotta Javed.

"In grave and serious crimes, which undermine the safety of citizens and pose a threat to the well-being of society, where the prosecution alleges some individuals to be accused, it has a duty to ensure that minimum standards of proof required in a criminal trial are satisfied," the bench noted, chiding the prosecution and the police.

It further reminded the police that the "flaw is not in the law but in its understanding and implementation by the police force". It pointed out that "such weaknesses and lapses" result in the state complaining that courts insist on an impossible standard of proof.

"In matters of liberty, the weakness of the state surely can't be an excuse for lowering time-tested standards, especially in serious crimes where the accused stands to forfeit their life," the bench added.

In its 232-page judgment the court virtually conducted a retrial, painstakingly pouring over the entire evidence including statements, witness testimonies, disclosures, exhibits etc to conclude the probe was shoddy and riddled with glaring inconsistencies. It flagged the "grave lapses" of the police and the prosecution such as lack of proof connecting some of the accused with the bombing, failure to hold TIP of articles and the accused, as well as the places where the articles were obtained.

Questioning the nature of the evidence produced by the police, the court wondered why the statement of vital witnesses wasn't recorded or why a conduit, who allegedly supplied arms in the case, was not arrested. It said this underlines "not only lapses and inefficiencies, but also throws a question mark on the nature and truthfulness of the evidence produced".

The judges were unsparing in their criticism of the police citing the complete absence of any daily diary (DD) entries to corroborate the movement of the police, inability to collect easily available documents like authenticated copies of the reservation chart or provide details to prove telephone calls were made. All this, HC said, betrays a "slipshod approach".

HC found the prosecution's lackadaisical attitude was reflected in the manner in which a junior prosecutor was fielded in the death reference when it is the standing counsel for the Delhi Police who appears in such cases.

"This court recollects that in death references where the state seeks confirmation of 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 deserve no less. The casual approach in the conduct of these appeals and references in the initial stages of hearing has to be underlined," it noted in dismay.

A trial court had in April 2010 awarded death sentence to Mohd Naushad, Mohd Ali Bhatt and Mirza Nissar Hussain while their fourth accomplice Javed Ahmed Khan was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Other two convicts, Farooq Ahmed Khan and his woman accomplice, Farida Dar, were held guilty for offences under the Explosive Substances Act and the Arms Act, were sentenced to jail terms of seven years and four years and two months, respectively.