1993 Serial Bomb Blasts Case: Bombay High Court Grants Major Relief To Retired Central Excise Officials

1993 Serial Bomb Blasts Case: Bombay High Court Grants Major Relief To Retired Central Excise Officials

A special TADA court had convicted 100 people in the case, including actor Sanjay Dutt, and acquitted 23.

Urvi MahajaniUpdated: Sunday, March 10, 2024, 05:48 PM IST
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In a major relief for two two retired central excise officials, the Bombay high court has quashed the order of the disciplinary committee that cut short their post-retirement benefits for allegedly allowing landing of explosives used in the 1993 serial bomb blasts in the city.

Court's observations

The court, while setting aside the disciplinary action orders, has noted that there was no evidence to investigate the charges against them. Also, the confessional statements made by the accused person before the police could not have been relied upon in the departmental proceedings, the court said.

"In absence of any evidence, it is not even a case where guilt of the employees in the departmental proceedings can be said to have been proved even on preponderance of probabilities," a division bench of Chief Justice DK Upadhyaya and Justice Arif Doctor said on March 4.

The court has said that retired superintendents of the central excise department, SM Padwal and Yashwant Lotale, shall be entitled to all consequential benefits such as arrears of salary and pension, which shall be made available to them within two months.

Background details of case

On March 12, 1993, 12 bombs went off at different locations in Mumbai killing 257 people and injuring more than 700. A special TADA court had convicted 100 people in the case, including actor Sanjay Dutt, and acquitted 23.

A departmental inquiry was initiated against Padwal and Lotale based on alleged confessional statements by four accused before the police during the investigation.

The high court said that Padwal and Lotale did not face any criminal trial in the case. Based on the alleged evidence available, the charges against them do not stand proved, it said.

"Our indefeasible conclusion is that it is a case where there was no evidence at all and accordingly, the conclusion arrived at by the disciplinary authority while passing the punishment orders is erroneous," the bench said in a detailed 50-page judgment.

As far as alleged confessions were concerned, the HC said: "In our opinion, this [confessional statements] could not be made basis of inflicting the punishment upon the employees in this case."

During the departmental proceedings, the authority heavily relied on the confessional statements of four accused persons. However, they were not examined during the proceedings, it noted. "Such confessional statements made in a criminal case cannot be the basis of proving the charge in departmental proceedings," the judges underlined.

Padwal and Lotale opposed the allegations saying that there was no evidence against them and the disciplinary action was initiated against them merely on the statements given by some police officers who had relied on alleged confessional statements given by the accused in the 1993 serial bomb blasts case. Also, the two never faced any trial in the criminal case.

On the other hand, the Union government contended that due to the laxity and misconduct by officials, contraband goods such as explosives, arms and ammunition were allowed to be landed which were then used in the serial bomb blasts.

The HC, however, said that mere suspicion even in the matter of departmental proceedings cannot be allowed to take the place of proof and the disciplinary authority should arrive at its conclusion of guilt based on definite evidence. “In both the departmental proceedings, the employees (Padwal and Lotale) were not tried as accused persons in the criminal case which the CBI had investigated and even prosecuted certain other departmental officers,” the HC added.

Padwal and Lotale were charged for accepting illegal gratification to permit landing of the consignments containing explosives, arms and ammunition that were used in the bomb blasts. They were charged with failure to maintain absolute integrity and devotion of duty and for having acted in a manner unbecoming of a government servant.

In 2004, Padwal was dismissed from service and in 2008 Lotale was asked to compulsorily retire and was held to be entitled to only 65% of the full compensation of pension and gratuity.

The two challenged the order before the Central Administrative Tribunal. The tribunal quashed Padwal’s dismissal order in 2010, but upheld Lotale’s disciplinary order in 2013.

The Union government approached HC against the order favouring Padwal, whereas Lotale challenged the unfavourable tribunal order. The HC dismissed Union’s appeal against Padwal and allowed Lotale's plea.

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