Justice, at last

Print edition : April 19, 2013

After the explosion in a locality in Mumbai in March1993. Photo: THE HINDU archives

Yakub Memon. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

The final verdict on the Mumbai serial blasts of 1993 comes from the Supreme Court 20 years after the event.

THE Supreme Court’s March 21 judgment in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case brings to a close one the longest judicial proceedings on terror in Indian history.

Yet, it is crucial to note that the masterminds of the deadly attack, which was unprecedented even on an international scale, remain free in countries where the Indian government has little access.

The court accused Pakistan of breaching the United Nations mandate to prevent terrorists from using a member-country’s territory to harm other countries and squarely blamed the neighbouring country for encouraging and helping the terrorists. This is the first time that the apex court has indicted Pakistan as a promoter of terrorism.

In what was the first coordinated terror attack on Mumbai, 13 bomb explosions ripped through the city on the afternoon of March 12, 1993. The bombs exploded at regular intervals at busy locations, killing 257 people and injuring 713, according to police records. The blasts were apparently a retaliatory action against the communal violence that broke out in Mumbai in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992.

Has Mumbai finally got justice? Perhaps, but unless there is some effort to arrest Dawood Ibrahim and ‘Tiger’ Memon, the prime perpetrators of the heinous crime, justice will not be complete, aver people who were directly affected by the bombings.

The Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan upheld the trial court’s conviction of 98 persons accused of carrying out the attack. Giving its verdict on a batch of appeals filed by the convicts and the Maharashtra government against the judgment of the TADA (Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act) court, the Bench upheld the death sentence for Yakub Memon, Tiger Memon’s brother. It, however, commuted to life imprisonment the death sentence awarded to 10 persons accused of planting the bombs.

The court convicted Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt of illegally possessing weapons, which were part of the arms consignment used in the attack, in a notified area, but reduced by a year the six-year sentence awarded by the trial court.

The judgment said that while Yakub Memon deserved no leniency, the other 10 accused needed to be evaluated differently as they came from poor backgrounds and were really “arrows” used by the mastermind “archers”. Significantly, in response to the appeals by the Maharashtra Police to enhance the sentence of some of the accused, the court sentenced six persons to life, taking the total number of life sentences in the case to 33. The court was scathing in its criticism of the complicity of local officials in the crime and confirmed the sentence of five customs officials—Somnath Thapa, R.K. Singh, Mohammed Sultan Sayyed, Jaywant Gurav and S.S. Talwadekar—and eight policemen who facilitated the movement of arms and ammunition in return for bribes.

Investigations reveal that the serial bombings were planned methodically in three countries: India, Pakistan and the Emirate of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Police sources and documentation of the case reveal that soon after the Babri Masjid demolition and the subsequent communal riots, terrorists from across the border planned a retaliatory attack.

The Mumbai underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, who was reportedly in Dubai by then, was recruited to execute the strike. It is believed that Dawood thought he was the only one who could avenge his community’s suffering during the Mumbai riots. He chose Mohammed Dossa, another gangster in Dubai, and Tiger Memon, a smuggler based in Mumbai, to plan, train the participants, and finally execute the blasts.

Tiger, through his network of criminals, managed to land a massive arms and ammunition consignment, which included the deadly research department explosive (RDX), in the country. Tiger also allegedly sent a group of men to Pakistan to train in handling arms and explosive devices. Meetings were held in several locations, mainly at the Memon family residences.

When a small-time crook, Gul Mohammed Sheikh, trained to be part of the attack confessed to the police about the imminent strike, Tiger advanced the date of the operation. The locations where bombs were planted included Fisherman’s Colony in Mahim causeway, Zaveri Bazaar, Plaza Cinema, Century Bazaar, Katha Bazaar, Hotel Sea Rock, Sahar Airport, Hotel Juhu Centaur, Worli, the Bombay Stock Exchange, the Air India building and the Passport Office, all of them extremely crowded areas. The death toll, therefore, was huge.

Tiger and his family, including all his brothers, left the country on the morning of the attack. While he never returned, the brothers did, as they believed that they were innocent. In fact, it has never been clear why Yakub returned. The evidence against him was incriminating, says a police officer.

Rakesh Maria, now Special Inspector General of Police, was at the time of the blasts a Deputy Commissioner of Police and was one of the men who uncovered the plot. He told Frontline that the case was cracked in 48 hours, but it was by chance. The discovery of an explosive-laden scooter in Dadar and an abandoned van at Worli led them to their owners, which eventually led them straight to the conspirators. Additionally, they managed to capture a couple of men (whose identities will never be revealed), and the information they gave helped the investigators unravel the entire conspiracy.

Confessional statements from those arrested and other evidence led to the conclusion that Ibrahim and Tiger Memon were responsible for carrying out the attack.

Both of them are currently residing abroad in safe havens to which the Indian government has little access. The men caught and sentenced were only their foot soldiers. Until Ibrahim and Tiger Memon are brought to book, the case cannot be deemed closed, says a former police officer.

In spite of credible evidence available that Ibrahim and Tiger Memon are in Pakistan, India’s efforts to get them extradited have yielded no result. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced soon after he assumed office in 2004 that he intended to use the proposed joint intelligence mechanism that India and Pakistan had agreed to set up to push for the extradition of people like Ibrahim. To date, there seems to be no progress on this front, and if past records are anything to go by, there may never be any positive outcome.

In the end, it was a sorry group of poor, uneducated and misled men who took the rap for Tiger. Other than Yakub, the 10 others who were awarded capital punishment by the trial court are those who planted the bombs.

The Supreme Court has now reduced their sentence to life, taking into consideration their underprivileged circumstances.

Maria says that Tiger led many of these men to believe that he would help them escape to the Gulf. On the day of the attack, he gave them Rs.10,000 (a substantial amount in those days) and said they would be looked after. They never heard from him again.

During the trial, several of the accused had no money to pay the legal fees and had no form of assistance. Maria believes that not many of them understood the enormity of the crime then and were probably swayed by the gangster’s assurances and money.

In 2007, TADA court judge P.N. Kode convicted 100 of the 123 people tried in the case. Kode awarded the death sentence to 11 and life imprisonment to 20 accused. Sanjay Dutt was cleared of terror charges but was sentenced to six years imprisonment.

The Supreme Court has commuted to life the death sentence awarded to Asgar Mukadam, Tiger Memon’s accountant, who was found guilty of transporting RDX to the Al Husseini buildings where the Memons lived; Mohammed Shoaib Ghansar, who parked the RDX-packed scooter at Zaveri Bazaar; Farooq Pawale, who planted the bomb at the Air India building; Mushtaq Moosa Tarani, who left an RDX-filled suitcase at Hotel Juhu Centaur; Parvez Sheikh, who parked an explosive-laden scooter at Katha Bazaar and a suitcase bomb at Hotel Sea Rock; Abdul Gani Turk, who planted the bomb that claimed the largest number of lives at a restaurant in Century Bazaar; Shahnawaz Qureshi, who helped Mukadam plant a bomb at Plaza Cinema; Rubeena Memon, wife of Suleman, Tiger’s brother who owned one of the cars that were used to transport the arms; and Tiger’s two other brothers Essa and Yusuf, who allowed their flat in Al Husseini building to be used for planning the attack.

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