A Delhi court on Thursday awarded death penalty to three out of six convicted members of terrorist outfit Jammu Kashmir Islamic Front for the 1996 Lajpat Nagar blast, which had claimed 13 lives.
"Three convicts (Mohd Naushad, Mohd Ali Bhatt and Mirza Nissar Hussain) are being awarded the death penalty, which is subject to confirmation from the high court," District and Sessions Judge S P Gargh said.
Sending the three convicts to the gallows, the court said their complicity in the grave offence warranted imposition of the extreme penalty. The court also awarded rigorous life imprisonment to convict Javed Ahmed Khan who was found guilty of serious offences of murder, conspiracy and attempt to murder under the IPC with the three convicts who got death penalty.
Convict Farooq Ahmed Khan and Farida Dar, who were held guilty under milder penal provisions, were allowed to walk free as the court said the imprisonment served during the trial was their punishment.
The court had on April 8 convicted 6 out of 10 accused in the case and rapped the police for "highly defective" probe and callous attitude.
Six members of JKIF -- Naushad, Bhatt, Hussain, Khan, Farooq Ahmed Khan and woman associate Farida Dar -- were held guilty for varying roles in the sensational case.
Additional Public Prosecutor S K Dass, during argument on sentence, had contended, "Keeping in view the fact that 13 innocent persons lost their lives in the blast, the four convicts do not deserve any leniency and should be awarded the severest punishment that is death penalty."
The prosecutor had also demanded the maximum prescribed sentences against Farooq and lone woman convict Farida who were held guilty under milder penal provisions of the Explosive Substances Act and the Arms Act.
Countering the argument, senior advocate Aman Lekhi, appearing for Farida, said: "The convict lady has been acquitted of severe charges pertaining to murder and conspiracy. Punishing her just for the sake of awarding punishment would amount to following the retribution theory, which is a thing of past."
Defence lawyer Khalil Ansari, appearing for the other five convicts, said, "The case does not fall under the rarest of rare category warranting imposition of the capital punishment as almost all the convicts were teenagers at the time of incident and could be reformed".
The court after hearing arguments on the quantum of sentence on April 13, had deferred the matter for pronouncement of order on April 17 and again on April 22.
While holding six accused guilty, the court had dealt in detail with the roles attributed to each of the accused and the evidence collected by police against them. The court had held the theft of a Maruti car, changing of its number, purchase of a gas cylinder and a wall clock for executing the blast, have been established by the prosecution.
These facts coupled with the "unrebutted" confessional statement of convict Javed Ahmed Khan, in which he gave minutest details about the conspiracy, preparation and the execution of the blast, proved the case beyond reasonable doubt, the court said.
The failure to arrest six other accused, including underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon, who were declared proclaimed offenders, has also found a mention in the judgment.
The remaining four -- Mirza Iftikhar, Latif Ahmed Waza, Syed Maqbool Shah, and Abdul Gani -- were acquitted of all the charges for want of sufficient evidence. A stolen Maruti car laden with explosives went off at around 6:30 pm on May 21, 1996, in crowded Central Market at Lajpat Nagar in south Delhi, killing 13 people and injuring 38 others.
The 10 accused were arrested soon after the incident when the police traced the phone calls they made to various media houses claiming responsibility for the terror attack.