The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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From cabinet to life in Cell No. 3, Tihar

New Delhi, Dec. 5: Shibu Soren’s new address: Cell No. 3, Tihar Jail.

The former coal minister — the first cabinet minister in India to be convicted of murder while in office — was today sentenced to life for the murder of his former secretary Shashinath Jha.

But a Delhi court turned down the CBI’s plea for the death sentence, providing relative relief to Soren’s family members and hundreds of supporters gathered there.

Soren himself appeared unmoved when the sentence was spelt out. Unless it is overturned by a higher court, the 62-year-old politician will have to spend many of his winter years in Asia’s largest prison.

Four others — Nand Kishore a.k.a. Nandu, Shailendra Kumar, Pashupati Mehta and Ajay Kumar — convicted in the murder were also sentenced to life in jail.

Soren has been ordered to pay the court Rs 5 lakh, which will be used to compensate Jha’s family — Rs 2 lakh each for his two daughters Kavita and Preeti and Rs 1 lakh for his mother Priyamvada.

Under section 120(b) (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code, Soren was also given a year of rigorous imprisonment, which entails hard labour. This, however, shall run concurrent to his life sentence. Therefore, if the executive decides to pardon Soren after 14 years in jail, he will be free.

The other four convicts have been asked to pay a fine of Rs 10,000 each.

Soren’s defence team, led by Rajya Sabha MP R.K. Anand, had been confident from the morning that the case against Soren wasn’t strong enough for a death sentence.

The prosecution started by contending that the maximum punishment should be awarded because of the brutal nature of the murder. “The accused committed the murder brutally, just like Sushil Sharma (in the infamous tandoor murder case),” the prosecution said.

If Soren was allowed to get away alive, the prosecution said, “the public would be terrorised”.

Anand said that since “every murder is brutal”, the CBI’s argument for death was baseless.

A comparison was made at this point between Jha’s murder and the terror attack on Parliament.

The CBI then cited “breach of trust” but Judge B.R. Kedia said: “I fail to understand how there is anything fiduciary about the relationship a man shares with his secretary.”

Around 6.30 pm “Guruji” — as Soren is known to his supporters — found himself once again being bundled into a police van, headed for his new address.

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