Actor Sanjay Dutt, who was given a six-year jail term after being convicted in connection with the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, was on Tuesday granted bail by the Supreme Court but it will take at least a couple of days before he is released from a Pune jail.
The apex court, which had earlier given him interim bail, gave regular bail to Dutt and 16 others after the CBI did not oppose it contending he was entitled to relief since the star was held guilty under a lesser offence of possessing illegal weapons under the Arms Act.
Dutt, who was sentenced in July this year, has already spent about 18 months in jail at different intervals.
The apex court, which wanted to adopt common parameters for granting bail, took into account the investigating agency's formulation that those who have already undergone half the period of sentence awarded by the trial court or convicted for non-TADA offences were eligible for the bail.
The bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan, which did not consider bail of the convicts awarded life sentence, however, granted interim bail to one such accused, ex-Custom Officer Somnath Thapa, on medical grounds as he has been suffering from lung cancer.
At the outset, Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanium submitted before the bench that a case of bail was made out for the four accused including Sanjay Dutt, who were only convicted under the Arms Act.
The court said those granted bail would be released on furnishing an unspecified bond and after depositing their passports.
A top official of Yerawada jail, where Dutt has been lodged since October 22 after his interim bail was cancelled, said it will take a couple of days before Dutt can leave his cell. The apex court order has to be routed through the special TADA court in Mumbai, the officials said.
Before senior advocate Fali S Nariman could address the bench on behalf of the actor, the ASG appraised it about the task done by the agency for considering the issue of bail and said a balancing approach has to be adopted in the case as it was a question of liberty of accused pending their appeal against their conviction.
"With courage and conviction I have to speak whoever is the accused or convict there has be a balance by considering the offence in which the accused was convicted," Subramanium said, elaborating the offence and punishment of 25 convicts, who approached the apex court for bail.
The court took note of the plea that when interim bail was granted to Dutt on August 20, there was delay in order reaching the TADA court in Mumbai and the actor could only be released after four days from Yerawada jail in Pune, where he was lodged once again after he surrendered on receiving the copy of the judgment on conviction.
To avoid any such delay, the Bench asked the apex court registrar to send the order of bail by e-mail to the TADA court in Mumbai.
CBI made its stand clear that it was opposing the bail of those convicted under TADA for conspiring and facilitating the blasts in Mumbai and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The bench, also comprising Justices R V Raveendran and J M Panchal, concurred with the view of the agency and said 'we are not inclined to grant bail to those awarded life sentence.'
Those whose bail plea were not considered at this stage were Rubina Suleman Menom, Essa alis Anjum Abdul Razaq Memon, Yusuf Abdul Razak Memon, Sardar Shahwali Khan, Zamir Syed Ismail Kadri, Muzamil Umar Kadri (all sentenced to life) and Khalil Ahmed Syed Ali Nazir (10 years imprisonment).
The bench also did not consider the bail plea of Kersi Bapuji Adejenia who is one of four accused along with Dutt convicted under the Arms Act. It said unless Adejenia surrenders before the TADA court, his bail and appeal will not be heard.
After counsel appearing for those who failed to get any relief said that their plea should also be considered, the bench said their matters will be taken in January next year. However, the court was lenient for marking their presence in the police station with 12 persons, including Dutt convicted under lesser offence will have to appear before CBI's Special Task Force, Mumbai once in three months and remaining five held guilty under TADA will have be there once in a month.
Expressing relief over the court's order, the actor's sister and Congress parliamentarian Priya Dutt told media persons in Mumbai, "We are happy that he would come here soon."
"We hope for a better tomorrow and want to thank all who have supported us to overcome the situation," she added. Dutt's friend Sameer Hingora, who has been sentenced to nine years imprisonment under TADA for supplying weapons to the actor, was also granted bail as he has already spend more than six years in the jail.
Another friend of the actor, Yosuf Mohsin Nulwalla, sentenced to five years for destroying the weapon and woman convict Zaibunnisa Anwar Kazi awarded five year jail term for helping gangster Abu Salem's aid Mansoor Ahmed Sayed in carrying the weapons from the residence of actor to her house, were also granted bail.