M A I N   N E W S

Sanjay is not a terrorist, just gun-keeper
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, November 28
The special court set up under the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Act to hear the 1993 bomb blasts cases today held actor Sanjay Dutt guilty under the Arms Act for possession an AK-56 assault rifle and a pistol. Judge Pramod Kode of the TADA court ruled that Sanjay Dutt was no terrorist and cleared him of criminal conspiracy in the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts.

The court accepted Dutt’s application for interim bail and has asked him to surrender to the police by December 19. Though not yet out of the wood, a relieved Dutt is locked in brainstorming sessions with his defence team to decide on the next course of action.

Judgement day began on a sombre note for the tense Sanjay Dutt who spent a sleepless night confabulating with friends and family. After an elaborate early morning puja held with several priests in attendance, the actor stepped out of his Imperial Heights building at suburban Bandra.

Clad in a brown and white checked shirt instead of his trademark blue shirt as advised by his astrologers, Dutt was greeted by close friends and relatives bidding him goodbye.

Among those expressing solidarity with Dutt were producer-director Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Karan Johar and actor Fardeen Khan. It was an emotional moment for the actor whose sister Priya Dutt, MP, and several colleagues from Bollywood hugged him as he left for the court in a Toyota Innova. A huge convoy of 25 cars carrying Bollywood hangers-on and media persons trailed.

Sanjay Dutt entered the TADA court located within the Arthur Road Central Jail a little after 11 am. Among those who entered the court premises with Sanjay Dutt included sisters Priya Dutt and Namrata, brother-in-law Kumar Gaurav, colleague Bunty Walia, director Sanjay Gupta and MLA Baba Siddiqui.

The court proceedings began at 11.30 am and Sanjay Dutt sat at the back, a picture of nervousness. Only once did he step out to smoke a cigarette. He was called to stand up for the announcement of the verdict shortly afterwards.

There was an element of suspense as Judge Pramod Kode began the announcement of the verdict with just one word — ‘Guilty’. As a stunned Sanjay Dutt began to speak the judge ordered him to keep quiet. “I will give you a chance to speak. Please wait,” Dutt was told.

The next few words of the judge relieved the tension in the courtroom. “I have not found him a terrorist,” Judge Kode ruled. He went on to pronounce Sanjay Dutt guilty under the Arms Act. As Sanjay Dutt again interrupted the judge, he was asked to wait his turn.

When his turn came, the actor pleaded for some leniency. “I am the only earning member of my family, I have to support my family,” Sanjay Dutt said.

Pleading for bail, his lawyer Satish Maneshinde told the Judge, “Sanjay has a daughter to support financially and also there was money involved in films that he was acting in so he needs bail.”

Judge Kode later went on to read out his judgment. The court, he ruled, had found Sanjay Dutt guilty primarily on three accounts: his own confession statement; the confession statement of his co-accused; and recovery of weapons from his residence as evidence.

Conceding Sanjay Dutt’s defence during his confession, Judge Kode said, “During my reasoning Sanjay Dutt is not a terrorist but he kept the weapons for his own protection.... Considering matters in his confession and also taking into account certain admissions from other evidence, I accept the stand of Sanjay of acquiring and possessing weapons for self-defence.”

In his confession, the actor had told the CBI that he and his father Sunil Dutt had sheltered hundreds of Muslim families and gave a lot of aid to them during the 1992 Mumbai riots. Angered by this, right-wing Hindu fundamentalists had threatened to wipe out the entire Dutt family, the actor has pleaded in his confession which was subsequently retracted.

The court granted Sanjay Dutt bail till December 19 in order to enable him to complete his ongoing films. Dutt also sought arrangements for his daughter to stay with her grandparents, and settle his late father Sunil Dutt’s will.

“I am happy the court has not found him a terrorist. If my father was alive today, he would quietly be crying in a corner,” Priya Dutt said in her reaction. According to lawyers, jail sentences under the Arms Act would range from three to five years. However Dutt’s defence team is looking at appealing before higher courts in a bid to stay his arrest.

Sanjay Dutt’s friends Yusuf Nalwalla and Kersi Adjania who were accused of helping the actor destroy the AK-56 assault rifle too were let off under charges under TADA.. Like the actor they too will now be charged under the Arms Act.

Customs officer guilty

The TADA court, however, held former Additional Customs Collector Somnath Thapa guilty of being part of the conspiracy. He was found guilty of meeting with Tiger Memon and facilitating the landing of arms and RDX at Maharashtra’s Raigad coast.

Somnath Thapa, former Additional Collector, Customs (Preventive), was found guilty of non-interference in smuggling of arms and explosives under Section 3 (3) of TADA (P) Act and of 120 B of IPC despite knowing designs of prime accused Tiger Memon and other accused.

The court held Zebunisa Qazi guilty of abetting terrorist acts by keeping in her possession weapons delivered to her by gangster Abu Salem and his men. The CBI said Salem and his associate Manzoor Ahmed Syed had carried weapons from Sanjay Dutt’s residence to Zebunisa’s house.



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