Gauhati High Court: While deciding the instant appeal preferred by Ranjan Daimari and 9 others regarding their conviction and sentence of life imprisonment by the Special Court in relation to the horrific 2008 bomb blasts which rocked Assam; the Division Bench of Suman Shyam and Malasri Nandi, JJ., observed that the manner in which the bomb blasts took place, undoubtedly reveal the intention to challenge India’s sovereignty, unity, integrity and cause widespread terror. Observing that the prosecution had successfully established that the blasts were a result of a conspiracy hatched by the 10 appellants, therefore, the Bench, applying the principles laid down in Yakub Abdul Razak Memon v. State of Maharashtra, (2013) 13 SCC 1, held that the order of the Special Judge convicting the appellants does not require any interference from the High Court.
Facts and Legal Trajectory of the Case: On 30-10-2008, 9 powerful bombs exploded in various parts of Assam like Kamrup (Metro), Barpeta, Bongaigaon and Kokrajhar between 11:20 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. In these blasts 88 persons had lost their lives and around 540 persons were critically injured along with extensive damages to movable and immovable properties.
Subsequently FIRs under IPC, UAPA and Explosive Substances Act were lodged. Initially, the responsibility of carrying out investigation these cases was taken up by the CID and Assam Police. However, subsequently, with the consent of the Government of Assam, the investigation was transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). From the investigation conducted, it was revealed that the nine bomb explosions were carried out by the members of the proscribed terrorist organization – National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) which was formed on 03-12-1986 under the chairmanship of Ranjan Daimari. These bomb blasts were the result of a conspiracy hatched and carried out by the members of the banned NDFB.
Consequently, CBI prepared the charge-sheet against 19 accused persons for commission of offences punishable under Penal Code, 1860 read with provisions of the Explosive Substances Act, 1908 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. The CBI recorded statements of approximately 871 witnesses.
The trial initially commenced in the Sessions Court, Kamrup(M), Guwahati but subsequently, was transferred to the Special Court constituted for the purpose of speedy disposal of the case. During the trial, the prosecution examined almost 650 witnesses. The remaining witnesses could not be examined as some of them were dead or went traceless. On conclusion of trial and after analyzing the evidence available on record, the Special Judge passed the impugned order dated 28-01-2019 convicting the accused/ appellants.
Contentions: The counsel for the appellants argued that there is no evidence available on record to prove that the serial bomb blasts were the outcome of a conspiracy involving the appellants and that the prosecution has failed to lead evidence so as to connect the appellants with the occurrence.
The appellants pointed out that there was an unusual delay in completing the investigation and the trial in this case, thereby leading to serious prejudice to the interest of the appellants. It was further argued that sufficient time was not given to the defense counsel at the trial stage to argue the case. The appellants also contended that the Special Court did not appreciate the evidence adduced by the prosecution correctly.
Per contra, the respondents argued that the conviction of the accused was based on the evidence adduced by the prosecution witnesses and not on the statements of the witnesses recorded under Section 164 CrPC as it has been alleged by the appellants’ counsel; those statements, however, had been referred only to corroborate the testimony of the witnesses.
Observations/ Findings: Perusing the facts and contentions of the case, the Division Bench made a detailed analysis of the evidence and witnesses’ statements against all the appellants and the other accused persons, the victims of the bomb blasts and experts. The Court made the following observations-
Concerning the argument of delay raised by the appellants, the Court observed that during trial, as many as 5 Public Prosecutors were engaged by the CBI but due to language issues, some of the Public Prosecutors had to be changed, which had also contributed to the delay in concluding the trial and the same was on account of factors that were apparently beyond the control of the prosecution.
Concerning NDFB, the Court observed that the organisation came into existence with the professed objective of liberation of Bodoland through the process of secession of the area from India. It was noted that the NDFB had been working in alliance with other armed secessionist organizations of the North East region so as to carry on with the struggle for national liberation of the Indo- Burma region in alliance with likeminded organizations of that region. Which is why the Central Government was of the opinion that the NDFB has continued to indulge in illegal and violent activities intended to disrupt the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India and also to align itself with other unlawful associations like United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA). Hence, NDFB was declared as an Unlawful Association and the organisation was banned. Furthermore, relying on Section 57 of Evidence Act, 1872, stated that there are cogent materials to prove that at the time of the occurrence of the bomb blasts, NDFB was a banned terrorist organization and an unlawful association within the meaning of the UAPA, 1967.
Regarding prosecution/ respondents’ submission that one Anup Kumar Baro was made an approver in the case, the Court noted that there is no material on record to hold the same. The Court further noted that serious doubts arise as to the procedure followed and the circumstances under which the statement of Anup Kumar was recorded, thus, his statement under Section 164 CrPC, cannot be relied upon as his confessional statement.
The Court also noted the statements of other accused persons implicating Ranjan Daimari and others. Concerning the statement of Ajay Basumatary, the Court observed that his confessional statement of this accused person appeared to be truthful and voluntary and the procedure prescribed under Section 164 CrPC was also properly followed.
“The confession of accused Ajay Basumatary not only appears to have a logical sequence but we find that the same was also spontaneous. The confession of this accused also finds due corroboration from the other evidence available on record and there is no non-corroborative factor on record. Therefore, we are of the opinion that there is no valid ground to discard the confessional statement of accused Ajay Basumatary merely because he had subsequently retracted his confession”.
After careful and detailed scrutiny of the evidence, the Court noted that the fact that the NDFB was a banned organization and an unlawful association, was cogently established from the testimonies of prosecution witnesses as well as the exhibits. The fact that NDFB was indulging in terrorist activities thus stands established from the evidence adduced by the prosecution.
Observing that 9 horrific bomb blasts which took place simultaneously within a span of 10 minutes causing large scale devastation to human lives and properties, has been cogently established from the evidence of the relatives of the victims, injured witnesses, persons who had suffered losses, evidence of the medical officers, ballistic experts etc.
“The manner in which the serial blasts took off at different places in the State of Assam leaves no room for doubt that the same was the handiwork of some person(s) or organization. Unless there was a concerted effort on the part of a number of people, blasts of this intensity, in multiple locations would not be possible. As such, the fact that the bomb blasts were the outcome of a criminal conspiracy is self-evident and the prosecution has also adduced sufficient evidence to establish the said fact (…) there can be no element of doubt about the fact that the sole purpose behind the blasts was to cause terror and thereby challenge the sovereignty, unity and integrity of the country”.
Conclusion: With the afore-stated observations, the Court stated that the prosecution was able to establish each link in the chain of circumstances to prove that the 9-bomb blast that took place on 30-10-2008 was the outcome of the conspiracy hatched by the appellants. “The appellant/accused persons were in a conspiratorial relationship and have acted in a concerted manner to execute the nine bomb blasts leading to the carnage. There is trustworthy evidence available on record to establish all the links in the chain of circumstances to prove the charge brought against each of those appellant/ accused persons beyond reasonable doubt.“
However, concerning some of the appellants namely Onsai Boro, Lokhra Basumatary, Indra Bhramha and Jayanti Brahma, the Court stated that the evidence on record is insufficient to conclude that the charges brought against them have also been proved beyond reasonable doubt.
The Court directed Raju Sarkar and Baisagi Basumatary, who are out on bail, to surrender before the Trial Court.
[Ranjan Daimari v. Central Bureau of Investigation, 2022 SCC OnLine Gau 1424, decided on 27-09-2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case:
Advocate for the Petitioner: A.K. Bhattacharya, Senior Counsel assisted by M. Saraniya and D.K. Bhattacharya, Counsels;
Respondents- S.C. Keyal, Special Public Prosecutor.
*Sucheta Sarkar, Editorial Assistant has prepared this brief.