A Pakistani national, convicted and sentenced to death eight years back in connection with the 1997 Delhi bus blast case, was acquitted of all charges by a trial court on Friday following a retrial.
After the fresh trial, the court held that there were "substantial lapses" in the Delhi police investigation and asked the Police commissioner to ensure that this does not happen again.
Mohd Hussain alias Julfikar Ali's case was retried on the directions of the supreme court which had said that the Pakistani national was not given a fair and impartial trial resulting in his conviction by the trial court in 2004. The Delhi high court upheld the trial court's verdict.
The retrial lasted 24 working days beginning November 8, 2012, during which the prosecution examined 34 witnesses before Additional Sessions Judge Pawan Jain, who acquitted Hussain and ordered that steps should be taken for his deportation as early as possible.
In its 68-page order, the court also concluded that there were several lapses in the investigation carried by the Delhi police which did not consider taking photographs of the inner portion of the bus and even the site plan was not prepared.
Further, exhibits lifted from the spot were not sealed and no effort was made to prepare the sketch of the suspect.
"I am of the considered opinion that prosecution has failed to bring home the guilt of the accused beyond the shadow of reasonable doubt. I hereby, acquit Mohd Hussain from all charges. He be set at liberty forthwith if not required in any other case," the judge said.
"Since the accused is a Pakistani national, he be deported to Pakistan as early as possible, if not required in any other case," he added.
The court noted that even the prosecution during retrial admitted that there were lapses in the investigation.
The ASJ also said the probe team "lacked direction in investigation and the manner in which the case was cracked down is not free from doubts."
Hussain was asked to furnish a personal bond of Rs10,000 and a surety of the same amount with the condition that he will appear before the higher court if he receives any summons or notice.
On December 30, 1997, a blast had been triggered in a Blueline bus at Rampura near Punjabi Bagh in West Delhi, leaving 4 persons dead and 24 others injured.
Hussain was convicted for murder, criminal conspiracy under IPC and also under the Explosive Substances Act, while three persons were discharged.
In November 2004, a trial court had sentenced him to death, which was confirmed by the Delhi high court in August 2006.
However, on August 31, 2012, the supreme court had set aside his conviction and death sentence and ordered Hussain's fresh trial on his plea that his right to have a free and fair trial had been impeded because he had no legal counsel to represent him during the trial.
During retrial, the conductor of the bus which the court said was "pole star of the prosecution case" and who had deposed that he had seen Hussain boarding the bus with a rexin bag was also held to be non-reliable.
During his examination, Hussain told the court that he had visited India by train on September 15, 1997, against valid passport and visa. He also submitted that on December 25, 1997, he was lifted by the police from the area of Jama Masjid and detained at some unknown place from where he was produced before the court in March 1998 and implicated in various false cases including the instant case.
The court said, "On the one hand, the probe agency tried to project the accused as a deadly terrorist, who is involved in six bomb blast cases, but simultaneously they had tried to show that they were able to break down the accused immediately after his arrest.
"If the accused was a deadly terrorist, it was seldom to believe that investigators could break down the accused on cursory interrogation at the place of arrest," it said while noting that the police even failed to prove his purported rented accommodation.
The trial court had termed the case of Hussain, a native of Jindrakhar village in Okara, Pakistan, as "the rarest of rare" one and had awarded him death sentence.
On January 11, 2012, a division bench of the apex court gave a split verdict on his appeal with one judge directing a fresh trial and the other holding the trial as "illegal" and ordering Hussain's deportation to Pakistan.
The two-judge bench, however, had agreed that the fundamental principles of law and the Constitution were overlooked by both the trial court and the Delhi high court in award of the capital punishment.
While ordering re-trial, a three-judge bench of the apex court had said in order to reach a quick result the accused should not be "stripped off his valuable right of a fair and impartial trial".
The bench had said Hussain's conviction and sentence was fit to be set aside as he was not given the assistance of a lawyer to defend himself during the trial.
The court appreciated the efforts put in by amicus curiae Rajesh Anand.