Mumbai: In a reprieve to the lone convict Himayat Baig in 2010 Pune German Bakery blast, the Bombay High Court on Thursday quashed the death sentence awarded to him due to lack of evidence and the prosecution's failure to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.
A division bench of Justices NH Patil and SB Shukre while pronouncing the judgement in the blast case that came as an embarassment to the state Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), however, confirmed 35-year-old Baig's conviction and life sentence imposed on him for possession of explosives (RDX).
According to the prosecution, the investigating agency had recovered around 1,200 kg of RDX from Baig's Latur residence after his arrest in September 2010.
The High Court quashed and set aside Baig's conviction under various sections of the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), under sections 120(B) (criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder) and 307 (attempt to murder) of the IPC, and under some sections of the Explosive Substances Act.
Baig's conviction under Section 5 (b) of the Explosive Substances Act for possession of explosives was confirmed by the High Court on Thursday. He was sentenced to life under this section by the trial court in Pune.
The High Court also confirmed Baig's conviction under section 474 of IPC, for submitting forged documents while procuring mobile phone SIM cards. He was awarded a seven-year sentence by the trial court under this section.
The High Court also confirmed his conviction under sections 465 (forgery), 467 (forgery of valuable security) and 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating) of IPC.
Dressed in a black shirt and blue jeans, Baig was present in the court when the judgement was pronounced.
The court said the period already undergone by Baig in prison from his arrest till date shall be considered as part of the sentence.
The High Court further said that it need not pass any order on the applications filed by two witnesses in the case, as it has acquitted Baig of the charges.
When Baig filed his appeal in the High Court challenging the death penalty, two witnesses in the case had also filed an application seeking for their evidence to be recorded again as their statement was taken under duress.
Baig, who the ATS said was a member of the terrorist outfit Indian Mujahideen, was arrested in September 2010 for involvement in the blast at German Bakery, a popular eatery in Pune's Koregaon Park area, which killed 17 persons and injured 58, including some foreign nationals.
In 2013, a sessions court in Pune convicted him and awarded him the capital punishment. Under UAPA, Baig has been acquitted under sections
16(1)(a) (terrorist act which results in death of persons), 10(a) (member of unlawful association), 10 (b) (committing act to promote unlawful association), 20 (punishment for being member of terrorist gang), 18 (punishment for conspiracy), 13(1)(b) (abetting unlawful activity) and 13(2) (assisting unlawful activity).
Under IPC, Baig has been acquitted under Section 120 (b) (criminal conspiracy), Section 302 (murder), Section 307 (attempt to murder), Section 453 (punishment for trespassing) and Section 153 (a) (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion or race).
Under Explosive Substances Act, Baig has been acquitted under sections 3(b) (unlawfully causing explosion likely to endanger life or cause serious injury to a person) and 4 (a) (b) (attempt to cause explosion).
There are total eight accused in the case, of whom six are wanted.
Besides Baig, another accused Qateel Siddiqui was also arrested, but he died in Pune's Yerawada jail following a scuffle with other inmates.
The other wanted accused in the case are: IM operatives Yasin Bhatkal, Mohsin Choudhary, Riyaz Bhatkal, Iqbal Ismail Bhatkal, Fayyaz Kagzi and Sayyad Zabiuddin Ansari.
According to prosecution, the bomb used in the blast was assembled at Baig's internet cafe. Thereafter, he travelled to Pune by bus with Mohsin Choudhary and planted the bomb.
However, Baig's lawyer Mehmood Pracha had earlier argued that Baig was not even present in Pune at the time of the blast, and that he was attending a wedding in Latur.
According to Pracha, it was Qateel Siddiqui who along with Yasin Bhatkal went to Pune.
Former journalist Ashish Khetan had also earlier filed a PIL, alleging that Baig was falsely implicated and the case should be probed afresh by NIA.