Pulling up the Delhi Police for “grave prosecution lapses” in the investigation of the 16-year-old Lajpat Nagar bomb blast case, the Delhi High Court on Thursday acquitted two death sentence convicts and commuted the capital punishment to life imprisonment for another.

It, however, upheld the life term awarded to the fourth accused. All the four had been held guilty and sentenced by a lower court in 2010.

Coming down hard on the shoddy investigation, a Division Bench, comprising Justices S. Ravindra Bhat and G.P. Mittal, said: “The nature of grave prosecution lapses, in regard to various issues such as lack of proof connecting some of the accused with the bomb incident, failure to hold TIP [Test Identification Parade] of articles and the accused, … [and] not recording the statements of vital witnesses…. underline not only its lapses and inefficiencies, but also throw up a question mark as to the nature and truthfulness of the evidence produced.”

Highlighting grave deficiencies in the investigation, the Bench said, “In this case, unfortunately, the police have shown casualness.”

In 2010, Additional Sessions Judge S.P. Garg awarded the death sentence to Mohammed Naushad, Mohammed Ali Bhatt and Mirza Nissar Hussain and life imprisonment to Javed Ahmed Khan.

The High Court set aside the death sentence of Mirza Nissar Hussain and Mohammed Ali Bhatt and acquitted them of all charges. It commuted the death sentence of Mohammed Naushad to life imprisonment.

“The conviction and sentences as against accused-9 (Javed Ahmed Khan) are sustained for the offence punishable under Section 120B [criminal conspiracy] read with Section 302 [murder] IPC,” the Bench said.

The judgment came on appeals by the four convicts and a reference filed by the police for confirmation of the death sentences.

The blast claimed 13 lives and injured 38, besides damaging 14 buildings and shops and eight Maruti cars in the Lajpat Nagar Central Market in South Delhi in 1996. A few days after the blast, the Jammu & Kashmir Islamic Front (JKIF) wrote to various newspapers here claiming responsibility for the blast.

According to the charge sheet, the conspiracy for the blast was hatched in Pakistan at the instance of JKIF chief Bilal Ahmed Beg. Inter-Services Intelligence’s Colonel Farooq was actively involved in the conspiracy, the charge sheet stated.

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