Empathising with the 'My name is Khan but I am not a terrorist' lament, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said law cannot be abused to harass any person owning to his religion and acquitted 11 people, held guilty of terrorism in Gujarat.
"District superintendent of police and inspector general of police and all others entrusted with the task of operating the law must not do anything which allows its misuse and abuse and ensure that no innocent person has the feeling of sufferance only because 'My name is Khan, but I am not a terrorist'," said the apex court in a judgement.
A bench of justices HL Dattu and CK Prasad made the observation while acquitting 11 persons convicted for allegedly planning to create communal violence during the Lord Jaganath Puri Yatra at Ahmedabad in Gujarat in 1994.
The bench acquitted the 11 allowing their appeals against an anti-terror court judgement, which had convinced them on terror charges and had sentenced them to five years in jail each under the now-repealed Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act and various other provisions of the IPC.
The bench while allowing their appeals, also extended the benefit of its judgements to other convicts who had not been able to come in appeal before it.
It also dismissed the cross appeals filed by the state seeking enhancement of the punishment to the convicts.
The apex court quashed their conviction on the ground that the state did not follow the mandatory requirement of Section 20-A (1) of TADA which stipulated prior permission from the District Superintendent of Police before registration of the FIR.
"Invocation of TADA without following the safeguards resulting into acquittal gives an opportunity to many and also to the enemies of the country to propagate that it has been misused and abused," Justice Prasad writing the judgement said.
The apex court also appreciated the police anxiety to fight terrorism and prevent loss of human lives, but said the safeguards in law should be scrupulously followed to ensure no individual liberty is jeopardised.
"We appreciate the anxiety of the police officers entrusted with the task of preventing terrorism and the difficulty faced by them.
"Terrorism is a crime far serious in nature, more graver in impact and highly dangerous in consequence. It can put the nation in shock, create fear and panic and disrupt communal peace and harmony," the bench said.
It said the task becomes more difficult when it is done by organised group with outside support. Had the investigating agency not succeeded in seizing the arms and explosives, the destruction would have been enormous.
"However, while resorting to TADA, the safeguards provided therein must scrupulously be followed. In the country of Mahatma, means are more important than the end."
"The facts of the case might induce mournful reflection how an attempt by the investigating agency charged with the duty of preventing terrorism and securing conviction has been frustrated by what is popularly called a technical error.
"We emphasise and deem it necessary to repeat that the gravity of the evil to the community from terrorism can never furnish an adequate reason for invading the personal liberty, except in accordance with the procedure established by the Constitution and the law," the bench said.
The prosecution casec dated back to June 1994, when the Gujarat police had arrested Ashrafkhan Babu Munnekhan Pathan for allegedly hatching the conspiracy to trigger communal riots by targeting members of the Hindu community during the Lord Jaganath Rath Yatra.
It had claimed to have recovered among other things 46 AK-56 rifles, 40 boxes of cartridges, 99 bombs, 110 fuse pins and 110 magazines from their possession.
The designated TADA court, by order dated 31st of January, 2002 had convicted 11 accused persons under the TADA and other provisions of the IPC and Arms Act.