The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction of Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt under the Arms Act in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case and sentenced him to jail for five years. He was directed to surrender in four weeks to serve his remaining term of about three-and-a-half years.

A Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and B.S. Chauhan gave the verdict on a batch of appeals filed by the convicts and the Maharashtra government against the judgment of the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act court.

The Bench convicted Sanjay Dutt of illegally possessing weapons in a notified area, but reduced by a year the six-year sentence awarded by the TADA court.

Writing the main judgment, Justice Sathasivam said: “It has been contended that since the confession of the appellant has been retracted, it is not trustworthy and it would not be safe to place reliance upon it.” [But] ‘it is settled law that a voluntary and free confession, even if retracted later, can be relied upon.” In the case of Sanjay Dutt, “the retraction statement was not made at the first available opportunity. After the recording of his confession, within 10 days, the accused was released on bail by the [Bombay] High Court and he remained free for a considerable period of time.”

Explaining the scope of confession statements, the judge said: “Since the knowledge of the details of such terrorist conspiracies remains with the people directly involved and it is not easy to prove the involvement of all conspirators, the confessional statements are reliable pieces of evidence.”

The Bench said the designated court took a view on the basis of Sanjay Dutt’s own confession that the weapons were acquired not for any terrorist activity but for self-defence. “Therefore acquittal was recorded in respect of the charge under Section 5 of the TADA. We are in agreement with the conclusion arrived at by the Designated Court. The fact remains that he was acquitted of those charges, and … the CBI has not filed an appeal against the same. The designated court convicted him of the offences under Sections 3 and 7, read with 25(1-A) and (1-B) (a), of the Arms Act.”

Dutt said he had no previous involvement or conviction prior to the one in 1993. He said he had been actively involved in an AIDS charity and raised funds for free treatment of poor patients, besides visiting the hospitals/centres. He said he was on the Board of Directors of Save the Children Foundation and was helping in raising funds for children, “who are needy, orphaned and destitute, as their Brand Ambassador for a long time, even prior to his being charged in this case,” and pleaded for the benefit of Section 4 of the Probation of Offenders Act.

The Bench said the object of the Act was to prevent offenders from becoming obdurate criminals because of their association with hardened criminals. Though nothing much could be done for hardened criminals, stress was laid on reforming offenders not guilty of serious offences and on preventing their association with hardened criminals. It was, therefore, provided that offenders should not be sent to jail, except in certain circumstances.

“The circumstances and nature of the offence, as analysed and discussed above, are so serious… that they do not warrant the appellant the benefit of the provisions of the Probation of Offenders Act. However, taking note of various aspects, we reduce the sentence to [the] minimum period, viz., from 6 to 5 years,” the Bench said.

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