Absence of criminal antecedents, middle class background mitigating factors: court

Two persons with alleged links to the Hindutva outfit Sanatan Sanstha were on Tuesday sentenced to ten years' imprisonment for carrying out an explosion and planting explosives in theatres in 2008.

A sessions court here pronounced the sentence for Ramesh Hanumant Gadkari (53) and Vikram Vinay Bhave (29) a day after convicting them. The two were given 10 years of simple imprisonment on each of the four counts of the Explosive Substances Act, namely 3, 4, 5 and 6 pertaining to possession and use of explosives and abetment.

Gadkari and Bhave were also sentenced to imprisonment and fined a total of Rs. 9,500 for other charges. “All the sentences will run concurrently,” Judge N.V. Nhavkar said.

Since the accused have already spent three years and two months in jail as undertrials, their period of incarceration will be “set off” by those many years.

The court considered injury to eight persons as an aggravating factor in the case. Gadkari and Bhave were responsible only for the incidents at Thane and Vashi theatres. The two are not convicted in a third incident at Panvel.

The absence of criminal antecedents and a middle class family background were the mitigating factors, the court observed.

Arguments

Public Prosecutor Rohini Salian pressed for a “deterrent punishment.”

“Some disgruntled people with their futile sentiments, either in the name of religion or god, create disruptions in our life. This is happening often. We are at the mercy of these people. They are killing and hurting innocents. Their ideology and fanaticism are extreme. According to me they are terrorists. The judiciary should pave the way with a deterrent punishment,” Ms. Salian said.

The court rejected the defence's appeal for clemency. Praying for “generosity,” defence lawyer Sanjeev Punalikar had argued that the two were from middle-class families and had no criminal antecedents. He pleaded for a lighter sentence on “humanitarian grounds,” so that the accused get a chance to reform themselves.

Their families had already suffered the stigma accompanied with the tag of ‘terrorist,' although “the court has held that [the charge of] terrorism does not apply in this case. They are not terrorists,” he said.

Mr. Punalikar said both Gadkari and Bhave were the only male members in their families. Gadkari had three daughters of “marriageable age” and Bhave had a three-year-old daughter.

Other charges

Under the Indian Penal Code sections of 324 (causing hurt), 427 (causing damage under Rs. 50) and 201 (removing evidence) read with the charge of criminal conspiracy, Gadkari and Bhave were given three, two and one years imprisonment respectively.

Under sections 3 and 4 of Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, they were given one year of simple and rigorous imprisonment respectively. One more year of jail was pronounced under 9 (b) of the Explosives Act pertaining to the manufacture, possession or importation of specially dangerous explosives.

According to the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad's (ATS) case, Gadkari, a former electrical engineer, came in contact with some sevaks from the Sanstha. He later became a full-time member of the Sanstha ashram in Panvel. He allegedly imparted training in bomb-making to the other accused and also used his funds for the operation.

Bhave is involved in an assault case in the ashram. Explosives were reportedly seized from his residence.

The ATS charge sheet speaks of three incidents. First, an explosion at a cinema house in Panvel, Navi Mumbai, during the screening of ‘Jodhaa Akbar.' Second, recovery of a low intensity explosive at Vashi auditorium and third , an explosion at Thane auditorium, both staging the Marathi play ‘Aamhi Panchpute.' The accused felt the movie and the play showed Hindu gods in a bad light.

However, Gadkari and Bhave are not convicted in the Panvel incident. They will be served copies of the judgment on September 9 after which they appeal against it.

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