Wheels within the wheels of justice: the Sanjay Dutt story
Shantonu Sen narrates a first-hand account on Sanjay Dutt’s involvement with the D-Company in the context of 1993 Bombay blasts and how it eventually affected his father Sunil Dutt, himself and his carseer, after the conviction of gangster Abu Salem.
The premature release of Sanjay Dutt from Pune, Yervada Jail after his conviction under the Arms Act is under challenge before the Bombay High Court. Now, 23 years after he was first arrested by the Bombay Police as an accused in the 1993 Bombay blasts, some events that I was associated with may be made public.
The Bombay blasts and the ensuing riots in the metropolis were Dawood Ibrahim's revenge for the Babri Masjid demolition; that much is well known. His main associates in the crime were his brother Anees and colleague, smuggler Tiger Memon Yakub Menon, apart from several others with whom he had business relations. Backing them was ISI Pakistan, the umbrella that provided the necessary wherewithal and the state of Pakistan's blessings to this undertaking.
I was at the time, a Joint Director in the CBI, heading both its central anti-corruption units, each under a DIG as well as three state level anti-corruption branches in West Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. The Director, SK Dutta, told me in early May 1993 that the Government of India had decided that the CBI would be charged with the investigation and prosecution of the Bombay blasts and that I would head the team in addition to my current charge.
On March 12, 1993, 10 RDX made bombs blasted in Mumbai, then Bombay. The city was benumbed, terrified, and traumatized. In a mere two hours, 257 lives were snuffed out, over 700 injured, some critically, and property worth Rs 32 crore destroyed. India had never seen anything like this before.
When Sanjay Dutt was arrested on April 19, 1993, for the aforementioned blasts, the cine world and millions of fans of the late Nargis Dutt reeled in shock. Then 33, still idolized as Sanju Baba, the young Dutt was lodged in Arthur Road Jail along with more than 100 known members of the underworld. They, too, were culprits in arms for the same infamous Bombay blasts. His detention and involvement in such a heinous crime seemed incredible to many, including myself.
I was directed to immediately set about creating my team. Originally, the decision was that the CBI would take over the investigation immediately. The revised decision was that the Bombay Police would file a charge sheet by November 1993 and the CBI would be in charge thereafter. I was directed to keep in touch with the investigations.
Was Sanjay Dutt a terrorist, was a question I asked myself during this period.
The Terrorist and Disruptive (Preventive) Act, 1985 (TADA) was originally framed to deal with the deteriorating situation in Punjab in 1984. The idea: dreaded, unrelenting secessionists, hardened to loot and kill were to be charged under this law. Day after day in 1985, the then Minister of Internal Security, PC Chidambaram, Home Secretary, GC Sommiah, and Director Intelligence Bureau, MK Narayanan, had been closeted in the minister's room in the North Block with me, then Deputy Inspector General Punjab Cell CBI providing inputs when called upon to do so.
We were working on what would constitute terrorism and disruption under TADA. Our work had defined terrorists and disrupters. They had to be inhuman and diabolical to fit the bill. Sanjay Dutt did not fit that bill. I was uncomfortable. MN Singh, then Joint Commissioner Bombay Police was uncomfortable with my perception.
Who was Sanjay Dutt and what was the evidence against him? Sanjay Dutt was then a budding actor and son of cine stars Sunil Dutt and Nargis. Sanjay had a yen for weapons. He owned licensed firearms and used them during hunting expeditions. During the December 1992-January 1993 riots, he acquired an AK-56 when, as he was to claim in his defense, his family received threats from Hindu fundamentalists.
He got ammunition with help of friends Samir Hingora and Hanif Kadawala, both film producers and partners in a company called Magnum Videos, which held video rights to several of his films, including the Sanjay Dutt-Madhuri Dixit starrer 'Sanam'. Kadawala and his partner Samir Hingora were known to underworld don Dawood Ibrahim's brother, Anees, who used them to deliver weapons to the actor. Some years after his arrest, Kadawala was shot dead by Chhota Rajan's men.
Samir Hingora had started out with a small video library. His clients included Anees Ibrahim and Mustafa Dosa, both big guns in the Bombay blasts. He had accompanied Abu Salem, (Convicted to undergo a life sentence by TADA Court on September 7, 2017) a member of the D Company to Sanjay Dutt's residence with the weapons. Weeks after the blasts, Samir was picked up for questioning. Abu Salem absconded but was, finally, extradited from Portugal.
Sanjay confessed receiving the AK 56 as well as some additional arms: 3 AK-56 rifles, 9 magazines, 450 cartridges, a 9mm pistol and over 20 hand grenades. They were, he confessed, delivered by Abu Salem, Baba Mussa Chauhan and Samir Hingora to his residence on January 16, 1993. There was some evidence that Sanjay Dutt was speaking to Anees when they arrived. He returned all weapons except for one AK 56.
There was no doubt that Anees had, in fact, provided the arms. They were, clearly part of the cache of weaponry that was smuggled through Mahasla, Alibagh District, Maharashtra, on January 9, 1993. Sanjay Dutt was in Mauritius when his involvement in procuring arms was firmed up. When he was returning from Mauritius to India, his father Sunil Dutt phoned up the police commissioner and informed them about Sanjay's arrival on April 19, 1993. The police picked him up from the airport.
His confession was 'good' evidence under TADA(P) ACT 1985. He had disclosed that Yusuf Nullwalla helped him to get rid of the weapon. A resident of Mazagaon and owner of a steel workshop, Nulwalla was an old friend of Dutt's. Days after Hingora and Lakdawala were arrested, he spirited the AK-56 away from the actor's residence so as to get rid of it. He took the weapon to a friend, Kersi Bapuji Adjania. This old Parsi businessman had a steel fabrication unit. The AK-56 rifle Nullwala brought from Dutt's house was taken to Adajania's workshop, where the two melted it down using a gas cutter before throwing away the pieces.
Dawood, at the behest of the Pakistan Inter Service Intelligence Agency aka ISI, wanted to arm his Muslim brothers with assault rifles and hand grenades. The weapons and explosives were smuggled into India by the Dawood Ibrahim's D-gang and were distributed among various underworld elements.
As earlier said, part of the consignment was delivered to Sanjay Dutt by the Dawood Ibrahim gang and he had kept it at his house. Sanjay Dutt himself admitted that he got the arms at the instance of Anees Ibrahim, the younger brother of Dawood. The Bombay Police had evidence of several phone records that showed that Sanjay Dutt was in constant touch with Anees, even making calls to Anees's number at the White House, Dubai, from his home number. So did all this constitute a crime under the TADA(P) ACT? The TADA(P) ACT 1985 was a tough law. The Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, commonly known as TADA, was an anti-terrorism law that was in force between 1985 and 1995 (modified in 1987). Designed to meet the special situation created by the Punjab insurgency, it soon came to be applied to entire India. It first came into effect on May 23, 1985, and was renewed in 1989, 1991 and 1993, before being allowed to lapse in 1995. It had become unpopular; there were widespread allegations of abuse. It was the first anti-terrorism law legislated by the government to define and counter terrorist activities.
The Act's third paragraph provides a very thorough definition of 'terrorism':
'Whoever with intent to overawe the Government as by law established or to strike terror in the people or any section of the people or to alienate any section of the people or to adversely affect the harmony amongst different sections of the people does any act or thing by using bombs, dynamite or other explosive substances or inflammable substances or lethal weapons or poisons or noxious gases or other chemicals or by any other substances (whether biological or otherwise) of a hazardous nature in such a manner as to cause, or as is likely to cause, death of, or injuries to, any person or persons or loss of, or damage to, or destruction of, property or disruption of any supplies or services essential to the life of the community, or detains any person and threatens to kill or injure such person in order to compel the Government or any other person to do or abstain from doing any act, commits a terrorist act.'
The law gave wide powers to law enforcement agencies for dealing with terrorist and 'socially disruptive' activities. The police were not obliged to produce a detainee before a judicial magistrate within 24 hours. The accused could be detained up to one year. Confessions made to police officers were admissible as evidence in the court of law, with the burden of proof being shifted on the accused to prove innocence. Courts were set up to exclusively hear the cases and deliver judgments pertaining to the persons accused of, under this Act. The trials could be held in camera, with the identities of the witnesses kept hidden. Under section 7A of the Act, Police officers were also empowered to attach the properties of the accused.
Under this Act, whoever advocates secession, directly or indirectly, in any part of India is liable to be punished. It drastically restricted free speech; and provided that a person can be detained up to one year without formal charges or trial against him.
Section 20 of the Act provides that detainee can be in police custody up to 60 days. Also, the detainee need not be produced before a judicial magistrate but may, instead, be produced before an executive magistrate who is an official of police and administration.
The number of people arrested under the Act exceeded 70,000 by June 30, 1994. Close to a quarter of these cases were dropped by the police without any charges being framed. Only 35 per cent of the cases were brought to trial, of which 95 per cent resulted in acquittal. Most persons held under were not terrorists, therefore it was allowed to lapse in 1995.
After the terrifying March 12, 1993, RDX explosions, Sanjay Dutt was arrested on April 19, 1993, as a terrorist. His father was a broken man thereafter.
Sunil Dutt came to see me, in the STF camp office in Mumbai. Two ministerial bungalows opposite the Sachivalaya comprised the STF camp office, Mumbai. Thereafter we met three more times; twice in Delhi and the third, by sheer accident, at the VIP Lounge of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport where just the two of us spent an hour waiting for our respective flights. We spoke privately and without aides.
My finding was that Sanjay Dutt was only guilty of offences under the Arms Act. He was, in my opinion, entitled to bail, as agreed by the public prosecutor Mr Natarajan. He argued in favour of bail to him but Judge Patel refused bail to Sanjay. Finally, when the Supreme Court heard him, they allowed him bail. Had it not been for the favourable CBI view, Sanjay Dutt would have remained incarcerated till the conclusion of the trial which took nearly 20 years to be completed.
Sunil Dutt had opened his heart to me at the Airport meeting. The man was under great stress. His only son was believed to be a terrorist and his finances were dipping. He had banked on Sharad Pawar to help him in the matter involving his son believing that without his intervention, the Bombay Police, the Joint Commissioner MN Singh, and the Commissioner Samra would continue to treat Sanjay as a terrorist. Even Judge Patel was inflexible.
He had run from pillar to post, engaging top criminal lawyers at great expense, all to no avail. He confessed that his only son was paying the price for his earlier decision in 1989, after Rajiv Gandhi's tragic assassination to throw in his lot with PV Narasimha Rao and not Sharad Pawar, then Chief Minister Maharashtra, in the Prime Ministerial race. Given Sharad Pawar's animus, he was convinced, that no one in Mumbai would lift a finger to help his son.
That I was right in my interpretation of the evidence against him is there in the finding of both TADA and Supreme Court. Both courts found him guilty of the Arms Act only. What does not get easily expressed is the story of the wheels within wheels of justice.