THEY HAD been handed out the harshest sentence the penal code allows — death. But on 22 November, 16 years after they were charged, the Delhi High Court set aside their death sentences, acquitting Mahmud Ali Bhat, 43, and Mirza Nissar Hussain, 32, of any involvement in the 1996 Lajpat Nagar bomb blasts.
In Srinagar, families of the two men celebrated. “What words should I use to thank Allah and the judges? For us it’s a miracle,” says a jubilant Ashad Bhat, 40, brother of Mahmud Ali Bhat, one of the acquitted. The blasts in which 13 people had lost their lives, had seen a lower court awarding death sentences to local Mohammed Naushad, Kashmiri arts traders Bhat and Hussain and life imprisonment to another accused Javed Ahmed Khan, in 2010.
Reprimanding the Delhi Police for what the order terms “grave prosecution lapses”, the high court acquitted Bhat and Hussain, while commuting capital punishment to life imprisonment for Naushad, and settled for a life sentence to Khan.
“Minimum standards of probe were not maintained. Test identification parade was not conducted and statement of key witnesses was not recorded,” observed Justices S Ravindra Bhat and GP Mittal, while pronouncing the judgment. The HC, while slamming the Delhi Police for poor investigation, said the investigation “throws up a question mark as to the nature and truthfulness of the evidence produced”.
In 2010, Hussain’s brother Mirza Iftikhar and another youth Syed Maqbool Shah were found innocent and acquitted in the same case after being in jail for 14 years. “When Iftikhar was declared innocent, my happiness was tempered because my second son (Hussain) was given the death sentence. But today my happiness knows no bounds,” says Hussain’s mother Padsha Begum, 70. “Together both of my sons have now spent 30 years in jail only to prove that they were innocent. Who will compensate for this loss?”
The acquittals have given the families hope that justice will be done in the 2008 Jaipur blast case, with which the duo, according to the police, has connections. “We’ve learnt that the real culprits have told the police that both Hussain and my brother Ali had no links with the Jaipur blasts. Let’s see how the police lies are debunked in this case,” says Arshad.
Baba Umar is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.