The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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After 13 years, another month

Mumbai, Aug. 10: Sanjay Dutt will have to wait at least another agonising month to know if the 13-year shadow of the deadly Bombay blasts will finally pass from his life.

As the actor, a vermilion tilak on his forehead, sat in a corner trying to steady his nerves, special anti-terror court judge Pramod Kode announced that he would deliver the final verdict on September 12.

As the palpable tension gave way to banter, lawyers explained that the 123 accused will know that day if they have been acquitted or found guilty, but the judge would take a few days more to announce the quantum of the sentence for the guilty.

Kode’s announcement came after a heated argument between defence lawyers and special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam. Dutt’s lawyer Farhana Shah informed the court that accused Abu Salem had filed a petition before Bombay High Court challenging Kode’s June 13 order separating the extradited don’s trial from the main trial involving the other accused.

She said the petition — which contends that separation of trial violates the extradition conditions signed with Portugal last year — has been adjourned for hearing on August 14.

Nikam objected, saying Salem’s petition has neither been admitted nor had the high court passed any stay order on the pronouncement of the 1993 blasts verdict by the special terror court.

He argued that according to a provision of the now-defunct Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, the Supreme Court was the designated court of appeal, so there was a doubt about the “maintainability” of Salem’s petition in the high court.

He urged Kode to continue with the dictation of his final verdict. The judge accepted the argument and fixed September 12 as judgment day.

Speaking to reporters outside the heavily guarded court, Nikam said: “The defence attempted to delay the final verdict by raising Salem’s petition, but we foiled the attempt.”

Salem’s counsel Ashok Sarogi denied that defence lawyers were trying to delay the verdict.

“We made a written application offering to complete Salem’s trial within 15 days if the prosecution was willing to produce the 12 or13 witnesses in the case. We had argued that in that case there was no need for separating his trial, but the prosecution was not interested,” he said.

Several of the accused and their relatives who flocked to the court were disappointed that their wait had been prolonged.

Salim Durrani, a 56-year-old from Rajasthan charged with providing shelter to the conspirators, said the case has “destroyed” his life.

“My father, mother and sister have died because they could not believe the charge against me. I hope it is over soon.”

But for the hundreds, among them teenaged girls, who jostled outside the court for a glimpse of the Munnabhai MBBS star, legal debates were of hardly any interest.

Sanjay, dressed in a blue shirt and denim, a combination he sports each time he visits the court, flashed a smile and waved to the crowd.

“It’s causing me needless tension. Better it gets over,” he said as he left the court.

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