Case Commentary

Sanjay Dutt Vs. State of Maharashtra, 2013


Author: Kanika Mawri, 2nd year LL.B. student at Amity Law School, Noida. 

Introduction

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India’s decision in the case of ‘Sanjay Dutt vs. State of Maharashtra, 2013’ is discussed in this article, in which a joint appeal was filed before the Apex Court by various appellants, viz. A-117 (Sanjay Dutt), A-118 (Yusuf Nullwala) and A-124 (Kersi Bajupi Adajania), against the Designated Court’s final judgment and order of conviction and punishment in the Bombay bomb blast case under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (‘TADA’). This article deals with the appeal and consequent decision in the matter of A-117.

Essential Details of the Case

Appellants: A-117 (Sanjay Dutt)

Respondents: The State of Maharashtra, through CBI (STF), Bombay

Petitioner’s lawyers: Mr. Harish Salve

Respondent’s lawyers:  Mr. Raval, learned ASG duly assisted by Mr. Satyakam

Concerned statutes and provisions: Sections 3, 7, 25 [(1-A), (1-B)(a)] of the Arms Act, 1959; and section 12 of TADA

Bench: P. Sathasivam, B.S. Chauhan

Date of judgment: March 21, 2013

Present status: Appeal is disposed of on certain terms

Facts of the Case

  • On 6/12/1992, Babri Masjid was demolished because of which violence erupted across the country. Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim wanted to take revenge for the demolition and hence conspired to commit a terrorist act in Bombay, for the purpose of which, Ibrahim, a resident of Dubai, sent arms and ammunition to Memon from Dubai, which were received by Memon’s men, particularly the accused persons.
  • On 15/01/1993, the co-accused paid a visit to A-117’s (Sanjay Dutt) home and informed him that firearms would be delivered the next day. Three AK-56 rifles, 250 rounds of ammo, and some hand grenades were brought to A-117’s home on 16/01/1993. On January 18, 1993, the co-accused persons took away three AK-56 rifles and ammunition, as well as two rifles and some ammunition.
  • Bombs exploded at numerous locations across Bombay on 12/03/1993. As a result, A-117 was apprehended immediately after arriving from Mauritius at Mumbai International Airport on 19/04/1993.The circumstances leading up to A-117’s arrest and the retrieval of the gun from A-120 constituted an unbroken chain that was inextricably linked.
  • On 26/04/1993, A-117 expressed that he wanted to confess and, thus, he was produced before Mr. Krishan Lal Bishnoi (PW-193), who, following the recording of the preliminary statement (first part), granted him a 48-hour cooling offcourt in the case.
  • Following the Court’s directives in the matter of Kartar Singh vs. State of Punjab[1], the Central and State governments established a review committee in June 1995 to investigate the cases of those accused of being involved in the Bombay blast case. This committee was formulated mainly to deal with two aspects- 1. Whether or not the provisions of TADA apply to specific accused individuals; and 2. Whether any of the defendants should be eligible for bail.
  • On 08/08/1995, the Review Committee stated that in some circumstances, the public prosecutor may recommend bail if certain conditions are met. The case of A-117 was also mentioned in the report. The prosecution filed the report with the trial court, and the CBI claimed in an application that they have no objections to A-117 and 11 others being granted bail.
  • A-117 repeated his appeal for bail in the Bombay bomb case before the Designated Court under TADA on 11/09/1995 in light of the Review Committee’s report, however, the application was once again denied by the Designated Court.
  • This order was challenged by A-117 in an Appeal and on 16/10/1995, He was released on bail until the end of his trial. However, by order dated 28/11/2006 and 31/07/2007, the earlier mentioned Designated Court convicted the appellants (A-117, A-118 and A-124) and sentenced them.
  • The instant case arises out of the appeals against the above mentioned judgment of conviction and sentence by the Designated Court.

Conviction And Sentence

Sanjay Dutt (A-117) was found guilty of violating Sections 3 and 7 as well as Sections 25(1-A), (1-B)(a) of the Arms Act of 1959 and sentenced to six years of RI and a fine of Rs. 25,000/-, additional six months of RI if the fine is not paid. However, the appellant was not found guilty of all of the other charges previously made against him and was thus acquitted of all of them.

Contentions

  1. Because the appellants’ confessions were recorded by a police official under section 15 of the TADA, the conviction could not be founded on them.
  2. That the confession of the appellant A-117 cannot be relied upon since it was retracted.
  3. There was insufficient evidence to back up the A-117’s confessional statement.
  4. Because A-117 had been cleared of all charges, his confession should not be used to condemn him for crimes other than TADA offenses.

Argument From The Appellant

Mr. Harish Salve, the counsel for A-117, made the following arguments:

  1. The confessional statement made by A-117 cannot be relied upon.
  2. If the confession is considered, it should only establish a case of violation of the Arms Act, not a terrorist act, because the firearms were possessed for self-defense during the January 1993 riots.
  3. A-117 was in possession of weapons at a different time, far before the Bombay bomb conspiracy began.
  4. The Designated Court and the supposed confession stating that the appellant (A-117) was conversing with Anees are improbable, and the prosecution’s attempt to unfairly manufacture prejudice against the appellant justifies summary dismissal.
  5. The Sanjay Dutt case (supra) dealt with a straightforward interpretation of Section 5 of the TADA.It specifically states that owning a weapon is not a TADA offense in itself. Section 5 simply creates a presumption that anyone in possession of unlicensed arms or ammunition of a specific type is susceptible to TADA penalties. The plain meaning of Section 5 was read down, according to him, to make it merely apply as a presumptive rule of evidence.
  6. A-117 was found not guilty of the allegations brought against him under Section 5 of the TADA, it was also discovered that the purported procurement of the weapon had nothing to do with the other conspirators’ alleged terrorist actions.

Argument From The Respondent

  1. The statements of confession of the co-accused build the case against the appellant, Sanjay Dutt, and they also back each other up in substantial details.
  2. As stated above, the depositions of many prosecution witnesses establish the appellant’s involvement and role in the conspiracy.
  3. The prosecution relied on the following evidence- (i) their own confessions as evidence; (ii) confessions of co-accused persons; (iii) Deposition of Prosecution witnesses; (iv) documentary evidence

Judgment

The Court held that the circumstances and nature of the offence was grave because of which A-117 cannot be given the benefit of the provisions of the Probation of Offences Act. However, taking into account various aspects, the sentence of the accused was reduced from 6 years to 5 years.

Judgment Reasoning

First contention: confessions recorded by a police officer

The first contention was rejected by the Court after referring to various precedents. According to Jayawant Dattatray Suryarao vs. State of Maharashtra, a confession recorded by a police officer under section 15 of TADA is acceptable and represents substantial evidence.[2]. Hence, it can be trusted to link the co-accused to the crime.

The Court also pointed out the propositions made in the case of Jameel Ahmed and Anr. vs. State of Rajasthan[3], with regard to confessional statements and their corroboration. They are stated as follows:

  1. For the maker’s conviction, a voluntary and truthful confessional statement, adequately recorded after adhering to the obligatory provisions and rules of section 15 TADA, is sufficient;
  2. Requirement for corroboration of a confession depends on the facts of each case;
  3. If a confession is being used against a co-accused, general corroboration should be sought for. However, if the court determines that the confession’s probative value is such that it does not require corroboration, it can be used to convict the co-accused;
  4. A general type of corroboration is required to use the confession against the maker as well as the co-accused, unless the court determines that such corroboration should be based on significant facts and relevant to the facts of the case. The amount of proof necessary should be the same as what a prudent person would need to believe in the reality of the statement’s relevant facts.
  5. The requirement that a confessional statement be sent to the Chief Metropolitan or Chief Judicial Magistrate, who must then transmit the same to the Designated Court, under section 15 sub-rule (5) of the TDA Rules, is directory and not mandatory. However, the Court should satisfy itself with regards to the genuineness of the said confessional statement and if the direct transmission of such statement creates any doubt.

In Devender Pal Singh v. State of NCT of Delhi[4], a three-judge panel found that an accused’s honest and voluntary confessional statement made under section 15 of the TADA can be relied on for the purpose of conviction, and that no additional verification is necessary if the confession is about the accused himself.

Second contention: retracted confessions are not reliable

The Court, in rejecting the second claim in this instance, held that: “In the case of the appellant, A-117, the retraction statement was not given at the earliest possible opportunity. Within 10 days after his confession was recorded, the accused was released on bail by the High Court, and he remained free for a long time. The accused’s confession remained unretracted, as pointed out by the Constitution Bench’s ruling on  09/09/1994. Many months after the confession was recorded, the retractions were made”

In State of Maharashtra v. Bharat Chaganlal Raghani[5], the Court stated that though judicial confessions are frequently retracted, they are still good confessions if made willingly and in line with the law. Corroboration of a confessional statement is a prudential requirement, and the degree of corroboration varies from case to case depending upon the facts and circumstances.

In Mohd. Amin v. CBI[6],the court had to consider whether confessional remarks, even if afterwards repudiated, can be used to convict the accused. It was held that the  retractions were just an afterthought and a result of their lawyers’ ingenuity, because the accused made no charges of torture, coercions, or threats, and they were made after a year. Therefore, the retracted confessions were held to be reliable.

Third contention: insufficient corroboration of the confessional statement

The third contention was rejected by the Court. The judgments quoted by the prosecution regarding the issue, were listed by the Court in the instant case.

In Wariyam Singh vs. State of U.P.[7], the Court relied on an accused’s confession to convict him. Although it was claimed that the confession was fabricated, a portion of it was corroborated by witness testimony, and thus the confession was used in the recording of the conviction.

In Devender Pal Singh’s case[8], the Court was asked, among other things, whether an accused’s confessional statement may be used to convict him purely on the basis of that confession, without any further evidence. It was ruled that if the confession is voluntary, it is not appropriate to assume that the police incorporated some components of the confessional statement obtained from the previous inquiry. Furthermore, the appellant’s retraction came after he had been arrested and brought into jail.

In Nazir Khan vs. State of Delhi[9], it was ruled that the co-accused’s confessional statements can be used to condemn a person, and that the Court should search for corroboration elsewhere only as a precaution.The Court said in this case that the corroboration provided in this judgment can be discovered in the form of substantive evidence in the form of co-accused confessions, oral testimony of witnesses, including eye witnesses to the occurrence who recognized the appellant, A-117.

Taking into consideration the above judgments, the Court in the instant case observed that:

It is clear that the events leading up to Sanjay Dutt’s arrest and the recovery of the pistol from A-120 form an unbroken chain that is inextricably linked to one another. The fact that the events happened one after the other in rapid succession lends credibility and truthfulness to the entire episode, so no foul play can be assumed. The role and importance of A-118 and A-124 may also be seen in the prosecution’s evidence for A-117, which corroborates each other in material particulars and hence constitutes a substantial piece of evidence.”

Fourth contention: Confession recorded under TADA, along with subsequent acquittal, cannot be relied upon for convicting an accused for offences other than TADA offences

The fourth contention was rejected by the Court. While dealing with the said contention, the court approved the Designated Court’s decision for acquitting A-117 of the charges under section 5 of TADA, since he had acquired the weapons for self-defence and not for terrorist activities, as per his confession. The Court relied on two cases; in Sanjay Dutt vs. State II[10], despite the fact that A-117’s crime was committed by unlawful possession of a firearm in a notified area, the Court determined that the accused would have a defense available at trial, which the Trial Court would be allowed to examine under section 12 of TADA.; in Prakash Kumar @ Prakash Bhutto vs. State of Gujarat[11], the court held that even if an accused is cleared of TADA charges, the confessions recorded under section 15 of TADA can be utilized against the accused, and the moment at which the trial can be split is at the stage of cognizance, not later.

A-117 should be released on probation under the rules of the Probation of Offenders Act, according to a supplementary affidavit. The Court concluded that the circumstances and substance of the offense were severe enough that A-117 was not eligible for the Probation of Offenses Act’s provisions. The court examined the requirements of Section 4 of the Probation of Offenders Act to determine his claim and eligibility to apply it.

The phrase “notwithstanding anything contained in any other legislation for the time being in force” supports the position that the Probation of Offenders Act’s section 4 provisions will take precedence if the other conditions set forth in the Act are met. Those conditions are: 1) The accused has committed a crime that is not punishable by death or life imprisonment; 2) Given the facts of the case, including the nature of the crime and the offender’s character, the Court that found him guilty believes that probation is the appropriate punishment; 3) In such a situation, the accused signs a bond, with or without sureties, pledging to attend and serve his or her sentence when called for a term of not more than three years, or as the court may order, and to keep peace and behave well during that time.

The Court was of the opinion that the underlying object of these provisions was to provide a chance of reformation to an accused, which would be lost in case he is incarcerated and associated with hardened criminals. However, A-117 was not eligible to derive the benefits of these provisions.

Conclusion

As can be seen from the foregoing, A-117’s confessional statement was a substantial piece of evidence that showed his unlawful possession of firearms in the designated region of Bombay. Furthermore, the confessions of other co-accused people supported and verified his allegations, including A-118 and A-124. Furthermore, it has been held in a number of decisions that a confession recorded in line with TADA’s regulations might be the sole ground of conviction.

In its final judgment, the Apex Court reduced the sentence of A-117 to 5 years, after taking into account all of the case’s facts and circumstances. The Court deprived A-117 of the right of probation due to the seriousness of the offence, and instead reduced his sentence by one year, after taking note of various aspects.


References

[1]  (1994) 3 SCC 569

[2] (2001) 10 SCC 109

[3]  (2003) 9 SCC 673

[4] (2002) 5 SCC 234

[5] (2001) 9 SCC 1

[6] (2008) 15 SCC

[7] (1995) 6 SCC 458

[8] Supra note 4

[9] (2003) 8 SCC 461

[10] (1994) 5 SCC 410

[11] (2005) 2 SCC 409

What's your reaction?

Excited
0
Happy
0
In Love
0
Not Sure
0
Silly
0

You may also like

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments