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Calcutta High Court commutes Lalgarh leader Chhatradhar Mahato’s life sentence

The prosecution failed to prove that Mahato and three others had waged war against the state, the judge said

By Our Legal Reporter in Calcutta
  • Published 15.08.19, 1:46 AM
  • Updated 15.08.19, 1:56 AM
  • 3 mins read
  •  
Chhatradhar Mahato is planning to challenge the high court order in the Supreme Court as he wants to clear the charges against him. Telegraph picture

Calcutta High Court on Wednesday commuted the life sentences of the face of the Lalgarh movement, Chhatradhar Mahato, and three of his associates, Sukhshanti Baske, Sogun Murmu and Sambhu Soren, to 10 years of imprisonment.

The division bench of Justices Md Mumtaz Khan and Jay Sengupta also acquitted two other accused in the case — Prasun Chatterjee and Raja Sarkhel.

While delivering the order, Justice Md Mumtaz Khan observed: “The prosecution failed to prove that Chhatradhar Mahato and three others had waged war against the state. They were merely involved in conspiracy for doing an illegal act.”

With regard to the acquittals, the bench said: “Mere recovery of a compact disc and some literature do not prove that Sarkhel and Chatterjee were involved in anti-national activities?”

All the six — and Gaur Charbarty, who died from cancer while in custody last year — were arrested in connection with an explosion that took place on November 2 at Salbony barely a few minutes after former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s convoy passed the area. A whole range of charges, including Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, were levelled against them for the blast and another explosion in the area that took place towards the end of 2008.

Police records reveal that Mahato and three others were arrested in the first week of September 2009 while Chatterjee and Sarkhel were picked up from Calcutta on October 6, 2009.

After 56 months of hearing, in 2015, a court in West Midnapore awarded life sentence to all the seven, who challenged the lower court order in the high court. Wednesday’s judgment followed four years of legal battle.

Amid a sense of victory among the accused after the order, lawyers of Chatterjee and Sarkhel wondered why the duo would not get any compensation, as they had to serve 10 years of imprisonment without doing anything.

“Chatterjee was 42 and Sarkhel was 37 when they were arrested. They spent a decade behind the bars, which mean they lost a significant portion of their lives behind the bar. They should be compensated,” said a senior lawyer of the court.

Some lawyers not connected with the case said that they would have to file fresh petitions in the high court for compensation. A lawyer said that the state might challenge such a petition.

Mahato, on the other hand, is planning to challenge the high court order in the Supreme Court as he wants to clear the charges against him.

After the judgment, social activist Sujato Bhadra, said “I talked to Chhatradhar over phone. He said that he would appeal before the Supreme Court against the order and would seek acquittal. Just to get rid of the stigma, he will move higher court.”

It could not immediately confirmed whether the three others, whose life sentences were commuted, would also follow suit.

Whatever be their next strategy, all four can walk free immediately, said a police source.

“Chhatradhar and his associate have already completed a 10 year of jail term. According to jail code, the lifers get a remission of 48 days each year. So, they are entitled to get 480 days remission and should be released from jail forthwith,” the source said.

The order, sources said, would be a good news for the ruling Trinamul, which did not try hard to establish the UAPA charge against the accused.

An erosion of votes in Jungle Mahal had helped the Trinamul Congress to realise that a large number of Mahato voters turned their faces away from the party because of a perception that the chief minister, who as an Opposition leader had once shared the dais with Chhatradhar, did nothing to free him from jail.

Chhtradhar’s wife, Niyati, is now a member of the Trinamul and two of his sons have already been provided jobs by the government.

While commenting on the issue, state BJP president, Dilip Ghosh, said: “There is definitely a political conspiracy of the Trinamul. The government had become lenient towards Chhatradhar and presented the case in such a way that Chhatradhar’s sentence is reduced.”