1996 Lajpat Nagar Blast: 27 years later, SC awards life term to 4; expresses anguish at slow trial due to ‘possible involvement of influential persons’

lajpat nagar blast

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of BR Gavai, Vikram Nath and Sanjay Karol, JJ has awarded life imprisonment to 4 convicts in the 1996 Lajpat Nagar Bomb Blasts case that killed 13 persons and left 38 persons injured.

Slow trial compromised national interest

In the judgment that came after 27 years of the incident, the Supreme Court severely criticised the way the case was handled and observed,

“A prominent market in the heart of the capital city is attacked and we may point out that it has not been dealt with the required degree of promptitude and attention. To our great dismay, we are forced to observe that this may be due to the involvement of influential persons which is evident from the fact that out of several accused persons, only few have been put to trial. In our considered view, the matter ought to have been handled with urgency and sensitivity at all levels.”

The Court took note of the record that revealed that the trial was completed after more than a decade that too, on the prodding on the part of the judiciary. This delay, be it for whatever reason, attributable to the judge in-charge or the prosecution, compromised national interest. It, hence, observed,

“Expeditious trial of such cases is the need of the hour, especially when it concerns national security and the common man.”

Background of the case

• On 21.05.1996, at the busy market of Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar, a Bomb blast killed 13 persons and left 38 persons injured. 17 persons were charge sheeted in the case, out of which one died and 7 were declared as proclaimed offenders and never faced any trial. The remaining nine accused persons facing trial were charged for having committed several offences under different penal provisions of the law of the land.

• Neither the Accused nor the State preferred any appeal against the judgment of acquittal and/or conviction and corresponding sentence in relation to some of the accused.

• Only 4 accused preferred separate appeals assailing the judgment of their conviction and sentence rendered by the Trial Court.

• The Trial Court had imposed Death Sentence on A3, A5 and A6 and the Delhi High Court acquitted A5 and A6, while the death sentence awarded to A3 was commuted to life imprisonment. A9 was awarded life imprisonment concurrently by the High Court and the Trial Court.

• The said judgment dated 22.11.2012 came for consideration before the Supreme Court. While A3 and A9 sought complete acquittal, the prosecution sought complete reversal of the judgment rendered by the High Court, both on the question of conviction and sentence as awarded by the Trial Court.

Supreme Court found all 4 guilty beyond reasonable doubt

The Court held that the prosecution proved the guilt of the accused in question in the commission of the crime and found them to be part of a conspiracy as under Section 120B IPC. The Court noted that:

• The blast was planned at the behest of other accused persons, namely, A15, who was working under the instructions of A11 to A1, who never faced trial.

• All these accused persons were known to each other and were participating with the common objective to carry out the blast in Delhi in furtherance of an international conspiracy to cause disruptive activities in India. All the proven circumstances taken together form a chain of events that implicates the accused persons. A9 specifically named A5 and A6.

• A5 in furtherance of this object arrived in Delhi on 10.05.1996 from Kathmandu, which stands proved.

• A9 carrying the RDX to Delhi and A6’s arrival has already been proved.

• A3, A5 and A6 proceeded to prepare the bomb in Delhi for which they procured various articles including battery, gas cylinder, duplicate key, fake number plates etc.; stole a car and made two attempts for the blast, out of which the second one came to be successful.

• The material which came to be recovered from the residence of A3 in the form of RDX was the same explosive material used in the Lajpat Nagar bomb blast.

The Court also noted that the accused persons who have not faced trial or those against whom the State has not preferred an appeal, prima facie, seem to be a part of this conspiracy.

Sentencing of the 4 accused

The Court took note of the fact that the bomb blast caused at the behest of the accused persons resulted in the death of 13 persons and 38 persons suffered injuries. There was further damage caused to the livelihood of the shopkeepers, whose shops were burnt down due to the said bomb blast. However, considering that the incident took place on 21.05.1996, i.e., approximately 27 years ago; the Trial Court awarded the sentence of death on 22.04.2010, i.e., more than 13 years ago; and the present accused acting at the behest of the principal conspirators; the Court held that these are all mitigating circumstances in not awarding the sentence of death even though it falls within the category of rarest of rare cases.

Hence, in view of the severity of the offence resulting in deaths of innocent persons and the role played by each accused person, the Court awarded life imprisonment without remission, extending to natural life of A3, A5, A6 and A9 and directed the accused to surrender immediately.

[Mohd Naushad v. State, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 784, decided on 06-07-2023]

Judgment authored by Justice Sanjay Karol

Advocates who appeared in this case :

Siddharth Dave, Senior Advocate; Kamini Jaiswal, Advocate-on-Record; Sanjay Jain, Additional Solicitor General of India and their teams, namely, Farrukh Rasheed, Advocate-on-Record; and Advocates Jamtiben Ao; Vidhi Thakkar; Prastut Dalvi; Arushi Singh; Abu Bakr Sabbaq, Ashish Sharma; Rani Mishra; Abhimanue Shreshtha; Rishi Raj Sharma; Satyam Chaturvedi; Ashima Gupta; Shruti Agrawal; Nishank Tripathi; Shreekant Neelappa Terdal (Advocate-on-Record); Sonia Mathur; Seema Bengani; Padmesh Mishra; Yuvraj Sharma; Udai Khanna and Dr. N. Visakamurthy.

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