A 37-year delay in the trial of former Railway Minister L N Mishra's murder on Wednesday left the Supreme Court pondering whether 'quietus' (an end) could be granted to the case due to prolonged hiatus or the criminal proceeding should be allowed to go on.
"Now, we have reached a stage where either you will be acquitted or you will be convicted or after the delay of 37 years in the trial, can we give quietus to the case," a bench comprising justices H L Dattu and C K Prasad said.
The bench made the remarks during the hearing of the petition filed by 65-year-old advocate Ranjan Dwivedi seeking quashing of the trial against him in the 1975 murder case of Mishra.
Mishra was killed in a bomb blast in a function at the Samastipur Railway station in Bihar on January 3, 1975, and Dwivedi, who was 24-year-old at that time, was made accused along with three Anand Margas members, one of whom has died.
Senior advocate T R Andhyarujina, who described the case as "unique", wanted to know from the court that when "there is no end of the case in sight," can the system "tolerate this type of trial which is going on for 36-37 years" and which violates the fundamental rights of right to life and liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.
"How could the sword be left hanging over the head for 37 years," he asked.
The bench, which heard the arguments for two hours, asked Andhyarujina to think and answer by tomorrow whether it could ask the trial court to expeditiously carry forward the trial and conclude it in a time-bound manner.
"Before we hear it further, can we tell the trial court that both the parties would cooperate and it will conclude the trial within three months. Think about it and tell tomorrow," the bench said
During the hearing, the bench said it would not be proper to point fingers either at the accused or the prosecution or the trial court judges for the delay in the trial.
It took exception to the statement by one of the advocates of Dwivedi that the trial court judge was harassing the accused by not accepting their grievances.
"That may not be correct. We are not going to appreciate this," the bench said while pointing out that even the judge has to go through the voluminous records and even recording of evidence of the witnesses produced by the accused in their defence has taken 10 years.
It also said the delay was not only due to the accused, the prosecution or the judges who heard the case in the trial court but also due to the matter coming before the superior court for one or the other relief either by the accused or the prosecution.
Andhyarujina had drawn the attention of the court that the case was earlier heard by the apex court which had in 1992 asked the trial court that since the trial was almost at the end, it should hold the proceedings on a day-to-day basis.
At one stage, the bench even said this was also a case for laying down guidelines for the trial court to complete the trial in a time-bound manner.
In the case, the accused had cited 40 persons as defence witnesses but now only 10 are alive.
The chargesheet in the case was filed on November 1, 1977, in a CBI court in Patna and later in 1979 it was shifted to national capital after the then Attorney General made a plea in the apex court.
Andhyarujina said the case was first investigated by the CID, Bihar, which had ruled out the involvement of Dwivedi but after CBI took over the case, two persons, Arun Kumar Mishra and Arun Kumar Thakur had in their confessional statements named the persons involved in the conspiracy.
However, later Arun Kumar Mishra had retracted from his confessional statement recorded before the court.
The L N Mishra murder case assumes importance as all those chargesheeted in it were also named as accused in the attempt to murder case on the then Chief Justice of India A N Ray in Delhi.
On January 19, another bench of the apex court comprising justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai, while hearing a petition relating to Justice Ray, had expressed anguish at the 37-year delay in the trial of the Mishra murder case.
It had directed the Delhi High Court to record afresh the statement of Vikram, approver for CBI, on whose confessional statement accused Santoshanand Avadhoot and Sudevanand Avadhoot were awarded 10 years rigorous imprisonment and advocate Ranjan Dwivedi was sentenced to four years RI by the trial court in Justice Ray's case.
The convicts have challenged their conviction on the ground Vikram had retracted from his confession.
"Before parting with the record of the case, we are constrained to say that we are distressed beyond words to find that the case relating to the attempt on the life of the CJI remains stuck up at the stage of the appeal even after about 37 years of the occurrence. We are informed that the other case of the killing of Shri L.N. Mishra is still mired before the trial court," the bench had said.
On March 20, 1975, at about 4.15 p.m. when the car in which Justice A N Ray, the then Chief Justice of India, was travelling along with his son Ajoy Nath Ray, head constable Jai Nand and driver Inder Singh, two hand grenades were lobbed inside the car on Bhagwan Das Road in central Delhi, which they escaped as the explosives failed to go off.