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1993 blasts absconder held in Kerala

Aug. 28: He may have heard co-accused Sanjay Dutt talk of the long arm of the law on reel, but Manoj Kumar Bhawarilal Gupta may never have imagined that it would catch up with him for real.

Gupta, sentenced to 14 years in the 1993 Bombay blasts by a special Tada court in August 2007, had served over 13-and-a-half years in jail when the ruling came. By end-2007, he was released. The next year, he married a woman from Kannur. She was pregnant with their third child when the Supreme Court verdict came this March.

The top court upheld the CBI’s appeal against his acquittal from criminal conspiracy charges — this entails life imprisonment — so, he was asked to surrender. But Gupta went into hiding.

The law finally caught up with him today when Kerala police arrested him in the early hours from his wife’s house in Athazhakkunnu in Kannur district.

In the March 21 order, the apex court had upheld the death sentence given to Yakub Memon, the younger brother of key conspirator Tiger Memon. It also clarified that convicts undergoing life imprisonment were expected to remain in jail till death.

Advocate Ujjwal Nikam, who was the special public prosecutor for the 1993 serial bombings case, said: “Gupta was a notorious criminal and part of the group of agents arrested in connection with the landing of the RDX consignment at Shekhadi. He was sentenced to 14 years in jail.”

Senior advocate Farhana Shah, who worked as a defence counsel for several accused including Dutt, said: “He was convicted by the special Tada court for his role in the landing of RDX and arms at Shekhadi… but he was acquitted from criminal conspiracy charges. Judge P.D. Kode sentenced him to 14 years imprisonment.”

The CBI then challenged the acquittal before the Supreme Court. “In the March 21 order, the apex court allowed the CBI appeal, and the court asked Gupta and others, including Uttam Podar, Rafiq Shaikh, Farokh Motorwala, Issaq Hajwani, to surrender. The others surrendered but Gupta said his wife was pregnant, so he would take her to her parents in Kerala and then surrender,” Shah said.

However, Gupta went into hiding. “He told me he would come back but he never returned. So, as per procedure, the apex court eventually asked the CBI to search for him and arrest him,” Shah said.

Even Dutt, who had remarried and had two little children when the Supreme Court order came, was ordered to return to jail to serve the remaining three-and-half years of his sentence. Having served 18 months in jail for possessing an AK-56 assault rifle, the actor was sentenced to six years in jail by the special Tada court. The Supreme Court reduced the term to five years. Dutt is now serving his sentence in Pune’s Yerawada Central Jail.

The Shekhadi landings, in which Gupta was involved, were conducted by Tiger Memon, a prime accused in the 1993 bombings case. Memon used his network to land two consignments of AK-56 assault rifles, hand grenades and RDX at Shekhadi and Dighi on the coast of Raigad in January and February 1993. The multiple explosions that rocked Bombay on March 12, 1993, killed 257 people and injured over 700.