New Delhi, July 29: The Supreme Court has agreed to examine the plea of six convicts who have challenged the life term Allahabad High Court had handed them for a murder committed 35 years ago, reversing a lower court’s lenient sentence.
Justices J. Chelameshwar and A.K. Sikri, initially reluctant to consider their petition, asked the Uttar Pradesh government to respond after counsel Puneet Mittal pleaded that the high court had taken an erroneous view of the incident.
On March 25 this year, the high court had sentenced the six — Yamin, Naushad, Akhlaq, Maqsood, Mehfooz and Shahroz — to life imprisonment for the murder of Niyaz Mohammad and for causing injuries to Khizar Mohammad, Anwar and Istikhar in Bulandshahr district on May 19, 1979.
The high court had reversed the April 1982 sentence handed down by the trial court, which had jailed Yamin, the main accused, for three years under IPC Section 304(2) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), while punishing the others under the Uttar Pradesh Probationer of Offenders Act.
The trial court had asked the authorities to keep an eye on Naushad, Akhlaq, Maqsood, Mehfooz and Shahroz under this act, which spares convicts the rigours of a regular jail term and allows them to lead a normal life after a two-year observation period if their conduct has been good.
For the next 32 years, the appeal filed by the state government for sentencing the convicts to life imprisonment and the cross-appeals by the convicts challenging the trial court’s order lingered in the high court, before culminating in the reversal of the sentence this March.
Life convicts are usually released on remission after 14 years. In this case, the convicts have been facing trial for 35 years. If the apex court upholds their conviction, it would perhaps be the first instance in the annals of criminal jurisprudence where a person has been sentenced to a life term after facing trial for over 30 years.
The apex court had recently commuted to life term the death penalty of several hardcore terrorists and convicts, including Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins, citing executive delay.
In their appeal before the apex court, the convicts in the 1979 Bulandshahr case contended that the high court did not appreciate that when there is a difference in inference between the trial court and the appellate court, the benefit must lean in favour of the accused.
Their petition said the trial court had interpreted the words “mardo salon ko” as a call to assault and, on the basis of material and statements available on record, rejected the inference that the accused had come with the intention to kill.
But the high court, the petition said, interpreted the words “mardo salon ko” as a premeditated “call to murder”.
“It is humbly submitted that when on the same evidence two inferences were possible, the acquittal of the accused should have been sustained,” the petition added.
Mittal, the counsel for the convicts, said the high court, “in its desire to convict”, had “ignored the fact that the injuries sustained by persons other than the deceased were simple in nature and could have been self-inflicted” too.
“All facts and evidence read in their proper perspective clearly pointed to the fact that the accused were rightly entitled to the benefit of doubt and the benefit of probation given to the appellants except Yamin,” the lawyer said.