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The Rediff Special/ Sheela Bhatt in Mumbai
'Dawood, Tiger Memon can't be convicted'
August 09, 2006
Even as Mumbai anxiously awaits the verdict in the March 12, 1993 serial blasts case, which Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act Special Court Judge Pramod Kode has said he will deliver on August 10, it is likely that the historic judgment will be delayed.
This is because some of the accused who are out on bail have still not returned to the custody of the court.
Also, three of the accused still in prison have applied for bail. Judge Kode has said he will hear their bail application on August 16. Some believe this application has to be disposed off before delivery of the judgment.
Another hurdle could be that gangster Abu Salem, another accused who was arrested in Portugal and deported late last year, has petitioned the Bombay high court requesting that his trial be clubbed with that of the other 123 accused in the case. The TADA court had decided to try his case separately in order to expedite the bomb blasts trial. The high court has fixed that hearing for August 14.
The Mumbai serial blasts of March 12, 1993, killed 257 people and injured 713 others.
The judgment will have pan-Indian legal, political and communal repercussions, a lawyer involved in the case told rediff.com.
The Mumbai police are taking no chances. Security has been tightened around the court premises. Lawyers, policemen and court staff involved in the trial have been provided with round-the-clock security cover.
Judge Kode too is leading a secluded life. A few months ago he told one of the accused: 'At least you are out on bail and free to move around. I can't even go to the bazaar.'
His court, which is inside the Arthur Road Jail in southcentral Mumbai, has become his second 'home', says a legal officer.
Senior lawyers who have been involved in the long and tiring trial have warned people not to have unrealistic expectations.
"Please understand that the prime accused Dawood Ibrahim and 'Tiger' Memon are not going to be convicted by the honourable judge. As per provisions of Indian law they can't be convicted because they have not stood trial in court," said Majid Memon, the most known legal face in the case, who defended many of the accused.
Since Dawood Ibrahim and 'Tiger' Memon are absconding their trial has been separated from the main trial. The public should be informed of this simple fact of law, a lawyer said.
"Even if the delivery of the judgment begins on Thursday," Majid Memon told rediff.com, "it will take days or maybe weeks before it is finally over."
According to another lawyer, closely linked with the trial, the judgment is expected to run into more than 4,000 pages.
The judges who have dealt with this historic trial have painstakingly gone through more than 70,000 pages of evidence. More than 2,000 people were involved in building up the legal case, of which around 684 were made witnesses. Of the 137 accused who were tried, 14 have died. Thirty two accused have been in jail since their arrest while the remaining have been granted bail by various courts.
Also, the judgment may not mean closure in the case. The convicted can always appeal to the Supreme Court. And it is anyone's guess how long that process will take.
Says Majid Memon, "Those who are waiting for the judgment must keep in mind that the big fish in the case have not been tried at all. Those who were couriers or who had highly limited knowledge of the conspiracy were put on trial."
Many of the accused who have been tried are 'small fry', wrote Adhik Shirodkar, a well-known criminal lawyer, in a newspaper column.
However, all this does not undermine the importance of the judgment.
For one, Dawood Ibrahim and 'Tiger' Memon's actual role in the blasts and their culpability and involvement with the other accused was minutely examined during the trial.
The only statement concerning Dawood Ibrahim is that of his landing agent (the man in charge of receiving the shipments of smuggled goods as soon as they landed on the coast) Dawood Phanse. He confessed that the meeting to plan the conspiracy and execute the blasts was held at Dawood Ibrahim's White House residence in Dubai at which 'Tiger' Memon and he were present.
Besides Phanse's testimony, there is no mention of Dawood Ibrahim's actual involvement in the thousands of pages filed by the Mumbai police and the Central Bureau of Investigation, says a police officer, who investigated one of the blasts.
The most famous accused in the case is actor Sanjay Dutt. According to a close friend, Dutt is nervous, spending his time praying and repeatedly calling up his lawyers.
He has just returned from the Sai Baba temple at Shirdi and has asked close friends to join him after the judgment to a pilgrimage to Moinuddin Chishti's dargah in Ajmer, Rajasthan, and the Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu.
Sameer Hingora, an accused who allegedly showed Sanjay Dutt's home to gangster Abu Salem, is numb. Salem allegedly delivered AK-56 rifles to Sanjay Dutt. All three are being tried for possession or distribution of deadly weapons.
The question regarding Sanjay Dutt is whether the alleged possession of a deadly weapon makes him a part of the conspiracy behind the serial blasts.
Says Hingora, "Since the last decade I am praying to Allah to end this nightmare. My life has been frozen since my arrest. Now, hopefully, I will start living again."
Hingora spent a little more than five years in the Arthur Road jail. "The wait for the judgment has been excruciating," he says.
Many of the accused have arranged various religious rituals on Wednesday to pray for a favourable verdict.
Meanwhile, for the victims and survivors of the serial blasts the wait for justice has been painful.
Naresh Gidwani, a victim who lost his eyesight in the blasts, angrily asked a newspaper in Mumbai, 'Why have the police not killed Abu Salem?' That sums up the mood among many.
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