New Delhi: On 14 June 1996, 24 days after a bomb went off in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar, killing 13 people and wounding 38 others, Naushad was arrested. Fourteen years later, in April 2010, a trial court sentenced him to death.
In November 2012, his death sentence was commuted to life by the Delhi High Court. The court acquitted Naushad of murder charges but held him guilty of “conspiracy” to commit one. Calling the judgment “inconsistent”, Naushad appealed it before the Supreme Court, which issued notice on his appeal in April 2013.
In the nine years since then, the now 56-year-old Naushad’s case has been listed 24 times but hasn’t been argued even once, having been adjourned each time — mostly on technical grounds.
In all these years, Naushad’s attempts at getting bail, too, have met with little success — since the notice on his appeal was issued in 2013, he’s applied for bail five times, only to have it turned down each time.
The case was last heard on 14 March 2022, when a two-judge bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud set 30 May as the date for listing his appeal before a vacation bench. But that hearing never occurred because the court didn’t assemble that day. Currently, there’s no next date for hearing the case.
Naushad’s son Haider Naushad told ThePrint that in the past 26 years, his father has come out six times on custody parole — a term for the temporary release of a prisoner even though the person, still in the court’s custody, is under constant police vigil.
“[He came out] thrice during the 14-year-long trial for three hours each time, and thrice on the directions of the Supreme Court,” Haider told ThePrint.
In 2016, the Supreme Court released Naushad on custody parole for three hours to attend his father’s funeral. Last year, he was out twice, for three days in March and five days in November, to attend his daughter and son’s wedding functions.
Although a convict undergoing a life sentence is eligible to apply for remission — a premature release cleared by a state’s sentence review board on the basis of a prisoner’s conduct in jail — after he completes 14 years in prison, Naushad’s appeal in the Supreme Court has blocked his chances of applying for this.
Farukh Rashid, Naushad’s lawyer, told ThePrint that his request for remission made to the Delhi review board was turned down because of his appeal before the Supreme Court.
C.U. Singh, a senior advocate at the Supreme Court, told ThePrint that it was “appalling” for the apex court not to hear the appeal of a man who’s been in prison for 26 years.
“This is not done. There should be some closure to his case,” Singh said.
Prosecution’s claims and family’s travails
The prosecution in the case claims that a stolen Maruti car full of explosives went off around 6:30 pm on 21 May, 1996, in Lajpat Nagar’s crowded central market.
The Delhi Police arrested 10 people — nine Kashmiri men and Naushad — in connection with the case. Investigators claimed later that they found explosives in Naushad’s house.
Naushad was charged with providing logistical support to his co-accused in the case.
However, the family claims that Naushad was illegally detained on 28 May, 1996 — a fortnight before his “supposed” arrest.
“Police claimed my father’s name was revealed by co-accused Javed Ahmed Khan, but the latter’s confession does not reflect this,” Haidar told ThePrint.
Although 17 people — including gangster Dawood Ibrahim — were named in the chargesheet, only 10 were tried in the case
Since then, the case has been stuck in a judicial labyrinth. The trial court took four years to frame charges and 10 to deliver a verdict in a case that saw 107 witnesses — mostly policemen — depose. In its verdict, the court acquitted four people. One person got 10 years in jail and another, six.
Four — including Naushad and Javed Ahmed Khan — were sentenced to death. All four appealed their sentences before the high court, which completed its hearing in the case by 18 May 2012 but took six more months to deliver the verdict. When it did, the court acquitted Mirza Nissar Hussain and Mohammad Ali Bhat, but sentenced Naushad and Khan to life imprisonment.
Both men separately challenged the “erroneous HC judgment”. In 2013, the Delhi Police also moved the Supreme Court against the HC’s acquittals.
Haidar was six months old when his father was arrested. His family never revealed the truth about where his father was until he was 10, he said.
“My sister, who’s 2.5 years older, and I were told our father worked outside Delhi,” said Haider, who left his education midway to join his grandfather’s scrap business to help make enough money to cover litigation costs.
Haidar told ThePrint that despite this, his family’s earnings were insufficient to cover litigation costs, and they finally had to sell part of their property at Turkman Gate.
Haidar met his father for the first time in Tihar in 2006 when he’d gone to visit with his sister. After this, the two children made it a point to attend all his court hearings, even if it meant missing school.
“This was the only way we could make memories with him,” he recalled.
The legal conundrum
The question before the SC now, Rashid told ThePrint, was whether a person could be guilty of conspiracy for an offence that the court has acquitted him of.
“HC has convicted him for conspiracy to murder even as it held Naushad never planted the bomb or killed anyone,” Rashid said.
On 23 August 2013, a three–bench judge of the Supreme Court turned down his bail application. Further bail applications in July 2014, February 2017, March 2018, and January 2021 met with a similar fate.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Police’s appeal in the Supreme Court against the high court’s acquittals lead the apex court to club the two cross-appeals, thus delaying Naushad’s case further.
Investigators, Rashid claimed, filed documents running into more than 5,000 pages in an attempt to make the case look more “complicated.”
“The documents in Gujarati have no connection with Naushad, but are related to a case against co-accused Javed (Ahmed Khan), registered in Gujarat in 1996,” Rashid said.
Meenakshi Arora, a Supreme Court lawyer and senior advocate C.U.Singh’s colleague, told ThePrint that it was time to make court listings entirely automated.
“The minute a petition gets registered, it should get automatically listed before the designated bench and the computer should be allowed to even manage a further listing of matters,” Arora said.
Meanwhile, as Rashid considered his next legal move, Haidar asked if it was possible to have his father released like A.G.Perarivalan, a convict in the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. ‘
“SC set him free because the governor didn’t decide his mercy plea in time. My father’s case has been pending in the courts for the last 26 years. Isn’t this also an inordinate delay?”
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)