Saving a celebrity at the cost of rule of law

Saving a celebrity at the cost of rule of law

Why not the media, VVIPs and former Supreme Court judges plead for the leaders of civil rights movements and Maoists? Dawood Ibrahim invites him...

Why not the media, VVIPs and former Supreme Court judges plead for the leaders of civil rights movements and Maoists? Dawood Ibrahim invites him for dinner and he purchases arms from terrorist consignment smuggled for Mumbai blasts. The media, society and VVIPs are briskly engaged seeking pardon to celebrity Sanjay Dutt, who is convicted and sentenced for five years of rigorous imprisonment for illegally possessing AK 56 and other lethal weapons. They were all planning violence in retaliation to the demolition of Babri mosque in Ayodhya. His conspiracy is not proved, at the same time his 'friendship' with Dawood gang is not disproved. The Supreme Court, during hearing of the case, has asked Sanjay about the extent of his contact with underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, wanted in India for the 1993 terror attack in Mumbai. in which 277 people were killed and more than 700 injured in 13 blasts across the city. "I have only attended a dinner at Dawood's house along with two film producers which was before the blast. Other than that I do not have any relationship," said Dutt through his lawyer Harish Salve. His confession recorded in trial mentions how he met Dawood Ibrahim, his brother and other close associates. Dutt's lawyer told the Supreme Court that he had been given three rifles because his family had been receiving threatening phone calls after the demolition of the Babri Masjid a few months earlier. Salve said that Dutt immediately returned two of the rifles and the grenades given to him. He also asked for the AK56 that he had kept with him to be destroyed. Salve said that the actor's pistol had been acquired before the blasts. The CBI proved that before the attack, Dawood's gang members had delivered AK-56 rifles, a 9 mm pistol and grenades to his home, and that he returned these a few days later, but kept one AK-56. The investigating agency had said that the weapons given to Dutt were part of the stockpile used for the Mumbai blasts. In 2007, Dutt was convicted by a Special Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADA) court of illegally possessing a 9 mm pistol and an AK-56 rifle but was acquitted of more serious charges under TADA law. The very fact that the CBI did not challenge the acquittal is a great favour done to him by the state. 'self-defence' misplaced In Paragraph 70 of its judgment (March 20130 in Sanjay Dutt's appeal, the Supreme Court has observed thus: "the Designated Court took a view on the basis of his (Sanjay) own confession that the weapons were not acquired for any terrorist activity but they were acquired for self-defence, therefore, acquittal was recorded in respect of charge under Section 5 of TADA. We fully agree with the same." Former Law Minister and Senior Advocate Shanti Bhushan wrote that Sanjay Dutt's act of acquisition of arms was not an offence as it was done in self defence. He quoted section 96 of the Indian Penal Code which said: "Nothing is an offence which is done in the exercise of the right of private defence." Shanti Bhushan also told that he was a very honourable person and suggested to file a curative petition to cure the 'defect' in Sanjay's conviction. Point to be noted is Sanjay Dutt was not under immediate threat and the act that he committed was not an 'on the spot' response to repel an attack, only under those circumstances the defence could be raised. Another point is the source of arms acquisition; which is terrorist mafia of Dawood Ibrahim gang. Can we invoke the 'self defence' as a reason to get arms smuggled for offending a nation? Section 25 (1 A) of the Arms Act states that if a person has in his possession a prohibited weapon without a license, he shall be awarded punishment of not less than 5 years imprisonment and not more than 10 years. Thus for possession of arms without license, minimum of five year imprisonment is mandatory and even Supreme Court cannot give less than that. If there are any aggravated circumstances and additional crimes, the punishment could be beyond five years. If the crimes and conspiracies under TADA were proved, the sentencing would be much higher. Sanjay Dutt was already under confinement for 18 months, and the Supreme Court was kind enough to sentence him with remainder 3.5 yrs. The rigorous imprisonment in Indian jails is painful for anyone. Hundreds of crores of rupees worth Film Industry is dependent upon Sanjay. He has a family with young child to take care of. This hero entertains millions of masses and it's almost unimaginable for his fans to see him behind bars. It is not a filmy scene that can end in a few seconds followed by heroic conclusion of any crime thriller. Inevitability of sentencing is the characteristic of criminal justice which deters criminals and prevents possessing illegal arms from terrorists. Justice Markandeya Katju, former Judge of Supreme Court and presently Chairman, Press Council of India pleaded for clemency for Dutt. He said that Supreme Court had power under Section 4 of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 to release the person under the circumstances of the case on furnishing a bond, which it did not prefer to exercise. Justice Katju said: "� the Supreme Court has not found him guilty for the 1993 bomb blasts, but only found him guilty of having in his possession a prohibited weapon without license. Surely, this is a lesser offence than murder. When the Governor of Maharashtra granted pardon to Nanavati, surely he can grant pardon to Sanjay". Incidentally Sanjay's father Sunil Dutt played the role of Captain Nanavathi, who was convicted of murder but pardoned by the Governor in recognition of services rendered to the Indian Army, in a movie based on Nanavathi's life. Justice Katju listed reasons: He has undergone 18 months in jail, got married, and had two small children, not been held to be a terrorist, had no hand in the bomb blasts, his parents Sunil Dutt and Nargis worked for the good of society and gave moral support to our brave jawans besides he, in the last 20 years through his film revived the memory and message of Mahatma Gandhi. Analysts raised broader questions like Radha Yatra and Babri demolition being responsible for precipitating communal crisis. True. But they should remember that such an argument cannot go to the extent of justifying terrorism killing hundreds of innocents. Public figures like Sanjay Dutt owe more, and are also entrusted with more obligations, than a common man to society. Can they demand more than what a common man could get? Why not the media, VVIPs and former Supreme Court judges plead for the leaders of civil rights movements, Maoists or those who were arrested for agitating for democratic demands like separate Telangana as they did not commit crimes but worked for the people? Why are these leaders equating proven crimes with 'mistakes'? The writer is Professor and Coordinator, Center for Media Law & Public Policy, NALSAR University, Hyderabad
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