Free Press Journal

Mumbai blast case index of appalling delays


It is a sad commentary on the criminal justice system in the country that the second batch of convictions in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case which was based upon the city of Mumbai being rocked by 13 explosions in different parts of the city has come this Friday, 24 years after the horrific tragedy was perpetrated. The fact that the blasts resulted in 257 fatalities and injuries to over 700 (independent estimates quote higher figures) underlines how horrific was the tragedy in which innocent citizens had to pay with their lives. In the first leg of the trial that concluded in 2007, the TADA court had convicted 100 accused in the case, while 23 persons were acquitted. The wheels of justice move far too slowly and mere lip service by the government and the higher judiciary cannot compensate for the frustration this must be causing to the families of the victims of the terrible event many of whom lost their sole bread-earners.

The Mumbai bomb attacks of 1993 still remain the largest coordinated terror attacks to have taken place on Indian soil in terms of the number of casualties. It is also one of the most well-planned terror attacks to have been perpetrated in India apart from the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. At the same time, this was the first terror attack on Indian soil in which RDX was used as the explosive material. Even as sentencing is announced, there are still courts that are open to the convicts to challenge the verdict. Extradited gangster Abu Salem and five others — Mustafa Dossa, Firoz Abdul Rashid Khan, Tahir Merchant, Karimullah Sheikh and Riyaz Siddiqui — have been convicted while the court has acquitted Abdul Quayyum who was charged with delivering weapons to actor Sanjay Dutt.

Underworld don Dawood Ibrahim, who was charged as the mastermind behind the terror attacks that caused mayhem in the commercial capital of the country is living in great opulence in Pakistan cocking a snook at the Indian establishment. Seven of his associates are among a total of 36 who are out of the purview of the Indian judicial system since they have taken shelter abroad. While submissions to Pakistan have fallen on deaf ears, even the US which recognises Dawood Ibrahim as an international fugitive has either been unable or unwilling to bring him to book. So much for the long-standing friendship with India which will again be touted when Prime Minister Modi meets US President Donald Trump later this month.

So weak-kneed have been successive Indian establishments that secessionists and separatists who openly side with enemy Pakistan against India are roaming around freely in Kashmir, preaching and practising subversion. The situation cannot change unless the Indian establishment picks up cudgels.

Strangely, the quantum of punishment for the six accused (the seventh was found innocent) is still not out. It is expected to be pronounced on June 19.  According to Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam, this is a unique judgement in so far as the prosecution cannot demand death sentence for gangster Abu Salem due to the agreement with Portugal which had extradited him. The court had dropped certain charges against Salem in 2013 after the investigating agency – CBI – moved a plea, saying those charges were against the extradition treaty between India and Portugal. Another twist to the case has been the interview of former Supreme Court Judge B N Srikrishna, who had headed the judicial inquiry commission, in which he said  that most of the investigations carried out in the case were without evidence.

If this is true, it is a reflection on the investigating authorities and the manner in which the system operates and the evidently poor protection that the police provides to witnesses. It reminds one of Punjab at the height of terror when no one came forward to depose against terror undertrials due to fear. Justice Srikrishna whose stature as an apex court judge is well recognised, also said in the interview with News 18 that there were plenty of cases which should have been really investigated. Most of the cases they had investigated either had no evidence or were true but undetected. When questioned, it was stated that it was not possible to find out anything more, said Justice Srikrishna.

Clearly, the criminal justice system in the country is in need of urgent attention. Apart from delays which are endemic, there are other areas crying for reform. Undertrials are rotting in jails for years. The fact that an important case like the Mumbai blasts case has taken 24 years to get past the special court stage is an index of frequent adjournments that are routinely granted by courts. Committees have sat on reforming the criminal justice system but their recommendations are not implemented. There is indeed a crying need for reforms. The Modi government which has been proactive in many areas needs to focus attention on this too on high priority.

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    The Joy of riding cycle

    Hundreds of cycling enthusiasts have gathered in Arnhem and Nigmegen, Netherlands for the Velocity Cycling Congress. From forty countries including India are attending the four day event. It is befitting that the Congress is held in Netherlands because Netherlands is known for having some of the best cycling infrastrucutre in the world. We may be surprised that there are 22.3 million bikes in Netherlands, which is more than one per head of the population. The dutch has bought 928,000 new bikes with total value of one billion euro in 2016. The cycle pah network stretches almost 35000 kilometres and according to Dutch News paper, the Netherlands spend every year 400 million euro on its bicycle infrastructure. One can pedal at a speed of 15 t 18 KM an hour and Dutchman Fred Rompelberg has a world record at a dangerous speed of 269 KM per hour in 1995 and still it is the world record, which no one has beaten. It is the DNA of dutch to walk the distance if it is less than a kilometer. But on an average the dutch cycle an average four kilometres. One can see children to senior citizens of
    dutch taking bicycle and pedal at ease. They are proud to have their cycle and it is an asset of the dutch. Those who have cars or motor bikes, prefer to bike to their place of work if the distance is cycla-ble. According to Dutch Cycle Union, “the dutch use bikes for everyday stuff for shopping, going to school or work, seeing family and friends, going to bars, cinemas and theatres”.On an average five million cyclists are good for 14 million cycle rides. If an average cycle ride is 3 Kms, the dutch cycle 4.2cr Kms everyday. It implies that no petrol is used to travel this much of distance. If a scooter in India gives 42 Kms per litre of petrol of say Rs.65, then 10 lakh litres of petrol is saved every day. That means we can save Rs.6.5 crore worth of foreign exchange every day and also means we can save Rs.2372.5 crore worth of oil bill. Another very interesting is financial benefits attached to cycle ride. If you use your bike for work-related transport you can claim 19 cents a kilometre as a tax-free perk – and that includes cycling to work. And your employer can even give you a company bike.

    In our country cycle is associated with poverty and it means you are economically backward. In 1968 when I was in 8th standard, my uncle had given me his cycle before he left Coimbatore to join a public sector bank for service. I considered that to be my most precious gift used for every thing-getting groceries, going for a movie to get cycle ticket, of course to school and college. I was traveling almost 25 Kms every day for nearly 15 years, till I left Coimbatore to Bangalore for a job. In those day, my father used to give me Rs.20 every month to go by bus to schools and colleges. But I used that money for books, tea buns, coconut buns etc as my pocket money. If I am late, my parents used to wait at the gate for the fear of driving cycle against wind and on the roads without any street lights. I did not look at the cycle for nearly 35 years till in May 2017 , I reached Netherlands to see my son, who is in Groningen, Netherlands. I was amazed at the people, who look upon cycles as their most previous asset. I purchased a second hand cycle and started riding the cycle. I felt, I have got my freedom to ride and the joy knew no bound. Perhaps, in our country we can think of reviving our cycle culture and keep our citizens healthy and fit. We can save crores of foreign exchange and reduce our carbon foot prints.

    Thanking You,
    S.A.Srinivasa Sarma