The Supreme Court upheld the conviction and sentence of eight Mumbai policemen and five customs department officials and said that but for their complicity in the conspiracy because of greed and corruption, the 1993 serial blasts could have been averted.
A bench of Justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan said sub-inspector Vijay Krishani Patil, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, and constables Ramesh D Mali, Ashok N Muneshwar, Shrikrishna Y Pashilkar, Krishna S Mokal, Krishna T Pingle and Manohar M More, posted at Shreevardhan police station and having jurisdiction over Shekhdi and Dighy Jetty, “connived and took active part in smuggling of arms and explosives at Dighy Jetty on January 9, 1993”.
They had let off an intercepted convoy carrying smuggled arms for a bribe of Rs.10 lakh. The bench said, “Police officers are the foundation for the existence of the rule of law; if they collapse, the whole system indeed breaks down.”
The bench was disappointed to find all grades of customs officers, including commissioners, involved in the conspiracy to smuggle in arms and ammunition. “Every kind of smuggling activity is devastating to the economy, but the smuggling of dangerous arms and ammunition causes wreckage not only to the economy, but also to people’s lives,” it said.
Customs officials Jayant K Gurav, Mohd Sultan Sayyed, Ranjitkumar S B Prasad, Somnath Kakaram Thapa (he is sentenced to life imprisonment) and Sudhanwa S Talwandekar, who were at the relevant time posted in Mumbai and Alibaug, had like the policemen taken bribes to allow smuggling of arms and ammunition.
The bench said “corruption among public servants indicates a failure of our system where pursuit of personal gratification subdues public interest” and warned that it could have “frightening ramifications” for the country’s security and lives of citizens.
Justices Sathasivam and Chauhan found the Coast Guard’s three-tier vigilance system ineffective and said, “The occurrence of Bombay bomb blasts on March 12, 1993 discloses the deficient performance of the officials.”
Two decades after serial blasts maimed Mumbai, the Supreme Court commuted to life term the death sentence of 10 persons convicted by the trial court for planting bombs as part of the first-ever coordinated terror attack that left 257 dead and 713 injured. The court upheld the death penalty for Yakub Abdul Razak Memon, the only one among the masterminds of the horrific terrorist crime—one of the deadliest internationally and the first one involving the use of RDX—who could be tried.
Pronouncing its final verdict in the terrorist atrocity, plotted as an extension of the communal violence that broke out in Mumbai in the wake of the Babri demolition in December 1992, the SC blamed Pakistan for encouraging and helping the terrorists.
In a unprecedentedly long judgment running into over 2,000 pages, a bench of Justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan said that while Yakub participated in the conspiracy with Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim and deserved no leniency, the other 10, though responsible for placing explosive laden vehicles at several places, needed to be evaluated on a different plane as they belonged to the lower strata of society and were sucked into the conspiracy to be used as “arrows” by the mastermind “archers”.
Of another 19 sentenced to life term by the trial court, the apex court upheld the punishment for 17. Of the remaining two, the life sentence was reduced to 10 years imprisonment in one case, and to the period already served in the other.
Significantly, it allowed appeals of Maharashtra police against acquittal of six accused and imposed life sentence on them. The six are Uttam S Potdar, Issaq Mohd Hajwane, Sharif Abdul Gafoor, Manoj Kumar Bhanwarlal, Farooq Illiyas Motorwala and Mohd Rafiq Usman.
This brought the number of those sentenced to life in the case to 33. The court stressed that they will stay in jail for the rest of their lives.
The bench also confirmed the sentence of customs officials and policemen who facilitated the conspirators in return for bribes, and censured the Coast Guard for not being vigilant enough to block the shipments of arms and explosives that were used in the attack.
Commenting on the enormity of the crime, the judges said, “This was the first-ever terrorist attack in the world where RDX was used.
However, there were doubts that the verdict would bring closure to the victims, considering that the masterminds—underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, his brother Anees Ibrahim and Yakub Memon’s brother Tiger Memon—have not been brought to justice. By all indications, the three are leading comfortable lives in Pakistan.
The bench was quick to add that lesser punishment to the co-accused would not be treated as a precedent. It clarified that life sentence meant the convict has to spend the rest of his life in prison, subject to the pardoning and remission powers of the President or state governor.
Immediately after demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim, then living in Dubai, planned a terror strike in Mumbai. Dawood sent arms and ammunition from abroad and it was received by Tiger Memon, who also sent some of the accused persons to Dubai and from there to Pakistan for training.