The Supreme Court on Tuesday dashed film star Sanjay Dutt's hopes of contesting the Lok Sabha elections by refusing to suspend his conviction for owning illegal arms in the run up to the 1993 serial bombings in Mumbai.
A bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan refused to suspend Dutt's conviction terming his crime as a "serious offence" and saying that his case is not on par with that of cricketer-MP Navjot Singh Sidhu, whose conviction in a case of unintentional killing was stayed by the apex court in 2007 to enable him run for elections.
The bench, which also included Justice P Sathasivam and Justice R M Lodha, dismissed Dutt's plea for suspension of his conviction, saying that electoral laws that bar a person convicted for a crime and sentenced to jail for over two years are aimed at stopping criminalisation of politics.
"In view of the serious offence for which he has been convicted by the special judge [of the Mumbai anti-terror court], we are not inclined to suspend his conviction and sentence," said the bench.
The Samajwadi Party had announced Dutt as its candidate for the Lucknow Lok Sabha seat, represented in the outgoing parliament by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Dutt has been campaigning in Lucknow.
The bench also refused Dutt's plea for parity with Sidhu's case, saying: "In that case, Sidhu was a sitting MP when he was convicted and he could have continued as an MP even after his conviction and sentence."
But following his conviction, "he resigned and expressed his desire to contest the elections", pointed out the bench. "In fact, that was a case, where the trial court had [first] acquitted the petitioner [Sidhu] and the Punjab and Haryana High Court in reversal found him guilty.
"It was in those circumstances that this court granted stay on the order of conviction and sentence," said the apex court.
The bench dismissed Dutt's plea even after noting his family background and his stature as a film star.
"The petitioner [Dutt] is a well-known cine artist and because of his contribution to the art and cinema, he has got a large number of fans throughout the country and abroad," said the bench. "His father [late Sunil Dutt] was also a well-known film actor and he was deeply involved in politics.
"At one point of time, he was even a minister in the union cabinet," noted the bench, adding that "the petitioner is not a habitual criminal.
"But despite all these favourable circumstances, we do not think this is a fit case where conviction and sentence could be suspended" to enable Dutt fight an election, said the bench.
It added: "The law - section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, prohibits any person who has been convicted of any offence and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than two years from contesting the election and such person shall remain disqualified for a further period of six years after his release.
"In the face of such a legal provision, the power of the court under section 389 of the Criminal Procedure Code [to suspend conviction or sentence] shall be exercised only under exceptional circumstances."