The Supreme Court on Wednesday commuted the death sentence of two men convicted for their involvement in the 2002 attack on the American Centre in West Bengal.
Five policemen were killed and at least 13 others were grievously injured in the incident that took place in Kolkata on January 22, 2002. Aftab Ansari and Jamilluddin Nasir were given the capital punishment by a sessions court and the Calcutta High Court upheld the same in 2010.
However, on Wednesday, a Supreme Court bench of justices AK Patnaik and FM Ibrahim Kalifulla said, while commuting the death sentence, that this case cannot be equated with the 2001 Parliament attack case or the Red Fort shootout case.
"When it comes to the question of sentence, we wish to hold that the imposition of death penalty is not warranted in the facts and circumstances of the case though it calls for other deterrent punishment," the bench said. "Ansari will undergo imprisonment of life till the end of his life and Nasir will undergo rigorous imprisonment for a minimum period of 30 years without any remission."
It examined all the documents and observed that Ansari played a prime role while Nasir had played a lesser role in the case. "...Therefore, while the involvement of appellants Ansari and Nasir in respect of the offences for which they were charged and found proved are devilish, diabolic, horrendous, vicious, wicked and its magnitude cannot be lessened on any account in our considered opinion, the role of appellant Nasir was always a shade lesser than what can be attributed to Ansari."
A sessions court in West Bengal had convicted Ansari and Nasir the under sections of 121 (waging war against the state), 121-A (conspiracy), 302 and 9 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) of the IPC and 27(3) of the Arms Act. The Calcutta High Court had in February 2010 had upheld the death sentence of Ansari along with Nasir but commuted the capital punishment awarded to three others to seven years imprisonment.
According to prosecution, two motorcycle-borne men had indiscriminately fired with a AK-47 assault rifle at policemen outside the American Center on Jawaharlal Nehru Road in Kolkata, killing five and injuring 13 others.
Just four days after the attack, two persons — Salim and Zahid — were injured in an encounter with a Delhi police team in Hazaribagh in Jharkhand and they subsequently died. The police had come to know about the involvement of Ansari from the dying declarations of Salim and Zahid.
Ansari was arrested from Dubai thereafter and was deported to India on February 9, 2002 to face trial. He was part of terror outfit Asif Reza Commando Force (ARCF) that reportedly had links with Harkat-ul-Jehadi-e-Islam. Ansari used to run extortion rackets and abduction rings in India and had set up bases in Kolkata, Agra, Mumbai, Malegaon and Surat.
The caretaker UPA government on Wednesday left it for Narendra Modi-led government to notify the constitution of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to monitor the probe into black money stashed abroad.
The Supreme Court had set up a three-member committee headed by retired Justice MB Shah on May 1, and directed the UPA government to issue the notification in this regard within three weeks, i.e. by May 21.
The Centre's counsel, Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran, on Wednesday sought a week's extension from a vacation bench of justices BS Chauhan and AK Sikri for the notification, saying that while the notification is ready, no final decision can be taken since a caretaker government is in place.
"The new government is likely to take charge next week and this court should grant at least a week's time as the deadline expires tomorrow (Thursday)," the senior law officer said.
The vacation bench said "We cannot modify the order as the same was passed by another bench" and decided to hear the plea on Friday.