Mumbai/Nagpur: Exactly two and a half years after former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju made an impassioned plea seeking pardon for Sanjay Dutt, Maharashtra Governor Ch.Vidyasagar Rao has rejected the appeal. Katju had written letters to the President, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde after a discussion with noted criminal lawyer Majid Memon and others in March 2013. Their decision came after Sanjay Dutt broke down in front of the media and declared that he was not going to seek pardon and would go by the Supreme Court decision.
Sanjay Dutt was convicted in the 1993 blasts case under the Arms Act for possessing weapons. He was jailed in 1996 and spent 18 months behind bars before walking out on bail. In 2013, the Supreme Court sentenced him to five years in prison for the crime.The 18 months that Dutt had earlier spent in jail were taken into account and he was to spend another 42 months. After the imprisonment in May 2013, Dutt has spent nearly 30 months in prison already and is due to walk out a free man in February 2016.
After he was sent to Yerwada jail in May 2013, Dutt has been out on parole twice and an equal number of times on furlough. In October 2013, he was out on furlough for 14 days, which was extended by a fortnight. In January 2014, a 30-day parole was extended by another 30 days. In December 2014, he was granted a 14-day furlough. Since August 27, 2015, he is again out on a 14-day furlough.
While turning down the plea for pardon, the Governor followed the home department’s advice, which, according to sources, was strongly in favour of rejecting it.The home department had recommended to the Governor that the plea for pardon be turned down as Dutt had been convicted by the highest court. Granting him pardon would set a bad precedent, it added.
Katju’s plea to the president is also likely to meet the same fate as the Maharashtra home department has given the same recommendation to the President too. Sources in the state government told Mumbai Mirror that Katju’s plea was kept in the cold storage for a long time as Dutt’s sister, Priya Dutt, was the Congress MP from north-west Mumbai at the time. The home department sat on the file and sent the proposal only after the new government was sworn in.
In his appeal, Katju had argued that Dutt was “not a terrorist” and had only erred. “The only charge on which Sanjay Dutt has been found guilty is the charge of having in his possession a prohibited weapon,” he had said, adding that he was in no way questioning the Supreme Court verdict. He had written that though the imprisonment of five years for possessing the weapon was correct, Dutt had suffered enough after spending 18 months in jail before he was sentenced in March 2013 and thus would be a fit case for pardon.
“I prayed that until my pardon petition is disposed of respite should be granted because Article 72 not only empowers the President to grant pardon, it also empowers the President to grant respite or suspension of sentence.So, till the pardon petition is decided, I have prayed that the President should grant respite,” Katju said.
Along with Dutt, Katju had also sought pardon for Zaibunnisa Kazi, another convict in the 1993 blasts case. Towards the fag end of a lengthy letter, Katju had written: “I am not appealing that Sanjay Dutt should be pardoned because he is a celebrity. I am also appealing for pardon to Zaibunnasa Kazi, co-accused who is not a celebrity.”