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Life for poor and jobless ‘arrows’

New Delhi, March 21: The Supreme Court today explained in detail why it was taking 10 “arrows” off the death row.

The court commuted to life imprisonment the death penalty of 10 convicts on the ground that they were “arrows” in the hands of “archers” Yakub Razak Memon and his brother Tiger Memon and gangster Dawood Ibrahim.

The bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan considered the socio-economic background of the 10 convicts and took into account the conclusion that they could not have carried out the blasts on their own had the “archers” not been in the picture.

The 10 were mere instruments in the hands of the masterminds because of poverty as some of them were jobless and vulnerable to exploitation, the court said.

“They (the principal perpetrators) targeted the meek souls who were underprivileged and easily impressible to accomplish their ulterior motive,” the court said.

The apex court, however, clarified that its decision to commute the death penalty has been taken on the basis of poverty and vulnerability of the convicts and hence the sentence in the particular case cannot be considered as a precedent when other cases are taken up in future.

The 10 convicts whose death sentence was commuted to life terms are Abdul Gani Ismail Turk, Parvez Nazir Ahmed Shaikh, Mushtaq Tarani, Asghar Mukadam, Shahnawaz Qureshi, Shoaib Ghansar, Firoze Amani Malki, Zakir Hussain, Abdul Akhtar Khan and Farooq Pawale.

The apex court said that technically, the 10 convicts who parked the explosives-filled vehicles in the respective destinations should also be judged by the yardstick that was applied to Yakub, whose death sentence has been upheld.

But there were certain mitigating factors in favour of commuting their sentence to life imprisonment, the court said. “If we do lift the veil, it is actually the masterminds’ strategy, which was executed by the subservient minions, i.e. these 10 appellants. This may not help in complete exoneration of the liability of these 10 appellants but the degree of punishment must necessarily reflect this difference.

“It is vital to remember that ‘but for’ the masterminds, this blast should have never seen the daylight. Accordingly, to differentiate the degree of punishment to A-1 (Yakub) and other 10 appellants, we contemplate that the ends of justice would be served if the death sentence of these 10 appellants be commuted to imprisonment for life.”

The bench also clarified that life imprisonment cannot be equivalent to imprisonment for 14 years or 20 years or even 30 years. Rather, it always means the whole natural life.

“This court has always clarified that the punishment of a fixed term of imprisonment so awarded would be subject to any order passed in exercise of clemency powers of the President of India or the governor of the state, or remission and commutation guaranteed… as the case may be.

“We may add a footnote to the above conviction that the executive should take due consideration of judicial reasoning before excising the remission power,” the bench added.