By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Sep 7 (IANS) Gangster Abu Salem on Thursday escaped the death penalty in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case as a Special TADA Court here sentenced two convicts to death while awarding him a life sentence.
The prosecution had demanded a maximum sentence of 25 years in accordance with the provisions of the extradition treaty with Portugal that bars extreme punishment for him.
“The government will take a decision on this matter now under the Criminal Procedure Code, whether to commute the life sentence to 25 years in accordance with the extradition treaty provisions,” Special Public Prosecutor Deepak Salve told IANS.
He added that as per Indian laws, life sentence is imprisonment till death, but under Portuguese laws, the maximum punishment is 25 years, neither life nor the death penalty.
Special Judge G.A. Sanap pronounced the death verdict on Mohammed Taher Merchant, 55 and Feroze Abdul Rashid Khan, 47, for their role in the blasts, said Salvi.
Besides Salem, 50, the Special Court sent Karimullah Khan, 55, to jail for life, and fifth convict, Riyaz Siddiqui, 67, to 10 years rigorous imprisonment.
“As per the Extradition Treaty between India-Portugal, this is the maximum sentence permissible to him since the death penalty is banned in Portugal where he was first arrested,” Salve said after the verdict.
The judge also slapped varying amounts of fines on the convicts after finding them guilty on various charges, including murder, hatching a criminal conspiracy to carry out the blasts, waging a war against the nation, supplying arms and ammunition, and other serious offences, Salve told media persons after the ruling.
All the six accused, including Mustafa Dossa, were earlier pronounced guilty by the Special Court on June 16. However Dossa, 60, died of a heart attack on June 28.
They were convicted and sentenced under various laws including Indian Penal Code, TADA, Explosives Act, Explosive Substances Act, Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act and others.
For perpetrating their heinous acts, the conspirators acquired and smuggled deadly arms and ammunition, detonators, hand grenades and nearly three tonnes of the deadly RDX (Research & Development Explosive – or Cyclotrimethylene Trinitramine), which was used for the first time after World War II on such a scale.
However, another accused Abdul Qayyum, 64, was acquitted from the case for lack of sufficient evidence against him and later released from jail.
The much-awaited verdict on the quantum of sentencing came 24 years after the March 12, 1993 serial blasts and nearly 80 days after they were found guilty.
At least 27 other accused in the case, including dreaded mafia don Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar and Tiger Memon, who mastermined the blasts, continue to elude the investigators and are declared absconders.
This was the second leg of the Mumbai blasts trial, the earlier having been completed in 2007 with the conviction of 100 accused out of 123 who were arrested and charged, including Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt and Yakub Memon, the brother of absconder Tiger Memon.
While Dutt completed his sentence in jail and walked out in February 2016, Memon was hanged on July 30, 2015.
In the first phase of what is probably the longest terror case trial in India, the then Special TADA Court Judge P. D. Kode sentenced 12 convicts to death, 20 to life terms, and other varying sentences to the remaining.
Later in March 2013, the Supreme Court had upheld the death sentence of Yakub Memon, commuted the capital punishment for 10 others to life sentences, and upheld the life imprisonment of 16 others.
On a quiet afternoon of March 12, 1993, the country’s commercial capital was shattered by a series of 13 blasts in quick succession at various locations in the city and suburbs, creating the worst unprecedented mayhem in the country, killing 257 and injuring 700 others.
The prime targets included the Air India Building, Bombay Stock Exchange, Zaveri Bazar, then existing five star hotels, Hotel SeaRock and Hotel Juhu Centaur, and others leading to damage to public and private properties worth Rs 27 crore.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at email@example.com)