Thursday, July 19, 2007

The 93 Mumbai blasts case moves into a decisive phase

Well, actually, make that into the decisive phase of sentencing. The court has already found people guilty or not-guilty, and is slowly moving into the sentencing phase. Till now, the special TADA court has been giving people sentences on the basis of their support to the actual blasts, and the sentences have seemed fairly proportionate. People accused of supporting the crime at different levels have been sentenced to various prison terms, and the gravity of the crime has been matched pretty fairly to the level of conspiracy. Even in that, there are nuances. For example, the police team that let the explosives and arms through for fines were sentenced to varying prison terms; the constables being sentenced to lesser terms than the inspector leading the squad who was sentenced to a much higher prison sentence due to greater complicity. Hence, people in the various gangs who supported the crimes in some way have been also sentenced.
And now the court is actually sentencing the people who have been directly implicated in the bomb planning and convicted of actually placing the explosive laden vehicles at the different locations where the bombs exploded and caused the numerous fatalities. So far, the court has sentenced 6 people to death for these direct crimes; although the fines are a joke. For a person sentenced to death, what is a fine and why would he actually pay the fine ? For opponents of the death penalty, undoubtedly these death penalties are something that could have been avoided; after all many argue that life in prison, with no possibility of ever coming out is far worse. For better or worse, our constitution supports the death penalty, and the court would have no option other than awarding the death penalty.
In addition, these people who carried out the crimes believed that they were avenging the Babri Masjid demolition and the Bombay riots that happened some time later. However, our society cannot accept the concept of people indulging in violence, especially when they have not been directly affected by the violence, and the bombings were carried out on innocents, thus making it clear that the death penalty was justly awarded. The bombings were meant to shake the nation, and hence they were actually an act against the state, thus leaving no grounds for mercy.
But this judgment has some disturbing signs. The fact that even for such a major case, it took 13 years to finally reach judgment was horrifying. A case is also meant to be healing for the victims (including families), and 13 years is a very long time. Our criminal justice system needs to react much faster, without compromising justice.
It was made even more a case of justice delayed due to the nature of the case. The case was filed under TADA, in a TADA special court, and should have got completed much earlier. The idea of a special law such as TADA and POTA was that the cases against terrorists would happen fast, and deliver justice speedily. That has obviously not happened in this case. In addition, this is not the end of the matter, with the convicts being able to appeal to the Supreme Court, and then a final appeal to the President. A delay of upto 10 years is not inconceivable. We need to move things much faster. I will strongly support the appeals system since every convict is entitled to an appeal where an injustice committed in a lower court can be reversed, but the system needs to act much faster.
The other major item pending so far is the judgment to be awarded to the actor Sanjay Dutt. He has been convicted under the Arms Act, and is due to be sentenced within the next few days. One can argue that he was stupid in getting an AK-56 and grenades, when he knew it was patently illegal and that he would be getting it from the mafia, but was he actually involved with the mafia or the bomb plotters? Very doubtful. At the same time, the court cannot keep the actor part or the famous part in mind when it awards the sentence, since it has to be impartial, and decide the sentence based on the actual case. I would expect that he would get around a 5 year sentence, less time actually served (around 2 years); which means some rough time for the actor.

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 5:41 AM