New Delhi/Mumbai: Upholding the death sentence of Yakub Abdul Razak Memon, currently lodged in Nagpur Jail, and commuting death sentences of 10 accused to life terms, the Supreme Court Thursday drew the final curtain on the March 12, 1993, Mumbai serial blasts case.
An apex court bench of Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice B.S. Chauhan also upheld the conviction of Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt under the Arms Act and sentenced him to five years' jail.
The serial blasts, a revenge for the December 1992-January 1993 communal carnage in Mumbai which followed the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya Dec 6, 1992, were carried out in a precise, cold-blooded manner at 12 prime locations, leaving around 257 dead and stunning the nation that warm Friday afternoon.
Though the Mumbai Police managed to crack the case within 48 hours, Yakub Memon, his elder brother, the dreaded Mushtaque Abdul Razzak Memon alias 'Tiger', Ayub Memon and their families quietly slipped out of the country a few hours after the blasts. Except Yakub, the others have remained beyond the reach of Indian and international law enforcing agencies.
Yakub - now aged around 50 - one of his brothers and their families, however, later returned to India and surrendered to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in New Delhi.
According to one of their lawyers, Subhash Kanse, they believed that they had nothing to do with the serial explosions and hence decided to end their lives on the run and face the law.
In its verdict dealing with the appeals of the convicts as well from the Maharashtra government for enhancement of sentences, the apex court also slammed Pakistan for aiding and abetting the acts of terrorism in infringement of international obligation as a member of the UN.
The legal battle began when in September 2006, the trial court in Mumbai handed out its first judgment after nearly 13 years into the case, awarding death penalties to several of the 189 accused, lifers for many, and other punishments to the rest of the accused, including Dutt.
Tiger Memon, his brother Ayub Memon, their families and India's most wanted don, Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar - considered the co-architect of the serial blasts - are reportedly still hiding in Pakistan.
Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam, who directed the government trial in the case, expressed happiness at Thursday's ruling and said the death sentence to Yakub Memon could help in building up pressure on Pakistan.
"The US government must take stringent steps now. Upholding of the death sentence to Yakub should pave the way for Tiger Memon to be forced out of Pakistan to face the legal process in India," Nikam said.
Described as "foolish" by his counsel, leading criminal lawyer Majeed Memon, sanjay Dutt, given his passion for weapons, paid for being involved with shady characters during his younger days and having a 9-mm pistol and an AK-56 assault rifle with him.
There were reports that Dutt could appeal against the verdict, but for the film industry it is the worry worth nearly one billion rupees tied in ongoing movie projects which could be stalled for years in his absence. Dutt is liable to serve three and a half years in prison after taking into consideration time already served earlier.
Over the years, during the investigations and the trial in various courts, the role and extent of involvement of various government officials, customs officers, police personnel, petty criminals and others also came to fore, astounding investigators and the people.
Meanwhile, Mumbaikars in general and survivors of the serial blasts expressed relief as one of the most high-profile cases in recent Indian history reached its logical conclusion after 20 long years.
Many have still not forgotten how Mumbai had suddenly changed - only to emerge stronger, despite many other subsequent terror attacks, including 26/11.