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SC ‘gravity’ caution

New Delhi, Jan. 6: Courts must not be swayed by the gravity of an offence and convict innocent people on the basis of “far-fetched conjectures and surmises”, the Supreme Court has warned, acquitting a kidnapping convict.

Mohd Faizan Ahmad had been sentenced for life with five others in a case the apex court admitted was “grave” —four children had been abducted and chained to an underground tunnel for five months on a diet of bread and salt.

But “if a criminal court allows its mind to be swayed by the gravity of the offence and proceeds to hand out punishment on that basis, in the absence of any credible evidence, it would be doing great violence to the basic tenets of criminal jurisprudence”, Justices Aftab Alam and Ranjana Prakash Desai ruled.

They said Patna High Court, which upheld Ahmad’s conviction, “was carried away by the heinous nature of the crime and, in that, it lost sight of the basic principle... that suspicion, however grave, cannot take the place of proof”.

The two-judge bench noted that though there was sufficient evidence against the other convicts, there was no concrete evidence against Ahmad. He had been convicted merely on the basis of a claim by one of the kidnapped children’s father that he had seen Ahmad riding a bicycle in the neighbourhood on the day of the kidnapping.

The Begusarai additional sessions judge had in September 2005 convicted Ahmad and five others and awarded them life terms. The high court dismissed Ahmad’s appeal, after which he approached the apex court.

Takki Imam’s daughter Sazia, 8, and Nusrat Bano’s children Shirri, 7, Rehan, 5, and Arfa Jamal, 3, were abducted in October 2002. A ransom call for Rs 50,000 was made. Five months later, the police found the children in a tunnel.

None of the children referred to Ahmad in their testimony, nor did any witness other than Takki. But the police and the children’s families claimed Ahmad, who used to work in Nusrat’s STD booth, had masterminded the kidnapping to avenge his sacking

The court pointed out that the police never traced the ransom calls or identified the callers.