New Delhi: Slamming the lax probe, the Delhi High Court on Thursday acquitted two convicts given death penalty in the 1996 Lajpat Nagar Market bomb blasts here which killed 13 people. Another convict's death sentence was reduced to life term.
A division bench of Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice GP Mittal pulled up Delhi Police and said they had "shown casualness" and handled the case with "grave lapses" and failed to maintain the "minimum standard of probe".
The court acquitted Mohd Ali Bhatt and Mirza Nissar Hussain, who were given death penalty by the trial court in 2010.
The judges also converted the death penalty given to the third convict, Mohd Naushad, into life imprisonment.
The court upheld the life sentence of fourth convict, Javed Ahmed Khan, who was held guilty of murder, conspiracy and attempt to murder.
"In matters of liberty, the weakness of the state surely cannot be an excuse for lowering time tested standards, especially in serious crimes, where the accused stand to forfeit their life, or at best, the most part of it," the court said.
The court observed that the prosecution failed to establish that Naushad himself planted or participated in the actual explosion but he was proved as a conspirator to have aided in the conspiracy.
"In the circumstances, in our view the case would not fall in the category of rarest of rare cases and the award of extreme penalty of death cannot be confirmed. Naushad is thus sentenced to undergo imprisonment for life for the offence punishable under Section 120B (conspiracy) read with Section 302 (murder) IPC," said the bench in the order.
"The death sentences imposed on three accused Naushad, Hussain and Bhatt are consequently not confirmed," added the court.
The judgment, running into more than 200 pages, said: "Police have not maintained minimum standard of probe in the case, test identification parade (TIP) was not conducted, statements of vital witnesses were not recorded. There was also absence of (police) daily diary entry in the case."
"In this case, unfortunately, the police has shown casualness. More often than not, it is such weaknesses and lapses which are the occasion for the state, in several cases, to complain that the courts insist on an impossible standard of proof, and that the law has to be interpreted realistically or pragmatically", said the bench in the order."
"It needs to be emphasised that the flaw is not in the law, or the standard of proof, which has, and will remain proof 'beyond reasonable doubt'; but in its understanding and implementation by the police force."
The order came on the appeals of the four convicts, of whom three were on death row. Police said all suspects were members of the militant outfit Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front.
The trial court, in its verdict, termed the crime as a "dastardly act" that fell under the "rarest of rare" category and awarded death penalty to the three convicts.
According to the prosecution, the accused were arrested soon after the blasts after police tracked the phone calls they made to various media houses to claim responsibility for the terror attack.