Pronouncing the first punishments in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts, a special court in Mumbai on Friday sentenced five men who had unloaded smuggled explosives into the city to three years' rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 25,000 each.
Special judge of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) court, Pramod Kode, announced the sentences under the Customs Act. He will take a week or two to deliver the verdict on all the 100 convicted in the blasts.
Judge Kode said: "Although the prosecution wanted a maximum sentence of seven years plus fine under the various sections and subsections of the Customs Act, it had, however, failed to produce enough evidence."
"All the five accused who were declared guilty under Section 111 (read with section 135 (a) of the Customs Act) in October 2006 have been sentenced to three years rigorous imprisonment plus a fine of Rs. 25,000 each," Kode said.
"The accused Yaswant Bhoinkar, Abbas Dawood Shekhdare, Shahjahan Shekhdare, Rashid Alware, Sharif Khan Abbas Adhikari were found guilty for illegally bringing in contraband goods from the high seas at a place other than a port."
Brushing aside the prosecution's demand of a maximum sentence of seven years, the judge said that the accused were mainly fishermen and unaware of the nature of the contraband goods being smuggled into India. The prosecution had also failed to establish that the accused were repeated offenders, he stated.
Kode said the fine was justified along with the jail sentence "since the accused had profited from committing the crime for which they were paid a good sum of money. No accused can profit from committing a crime."
"If the accused default in the payment of fine they will have to serve another six months in addition to their respective sentences."
The five accused, including two poor fishermen and three trawler owners, heard out the sentence with eyes downcast as a court official explained the quantum of punishment to them.
"I am a poor fisherman. How will I pay the fine imposed on me by the court? It seems that I will have to serve an extra six months sentence," a somewhat shaken Yashwant Bhionkar, who has already served nearly two years at the Arthur Road jail, told IANS afterwards.
He had abetted terrorists in landing explosives and arms at Raigad in coastal Maharashtra.
On the afternoon of March 12, 1993, a series of 12 explosions ripped through Mumbai, spreading terror and destruction over a two-hour period, killing 257 people and grievously injuring another 713.
Property worth Rs.300 million was damaged.
After a long-drawn trial, which started in January 1994, the TADA court housed inside the high-security Arthur Road jail in central Mumbai's Byculla had started pronouncing verdicts from September last year.
The judge is expected to read out the quantum of sentence in batches for the remaining 94 convicts including 44 conspirators, 47 arbitrators, who have all been found guilty under various sections of the stringent TADA Act and four accused found guilty under the Arms Act, including Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, found guilty of illegally possessing an AK-56 automatic rifle which was smuggled into the country before the blasts.
Dutt has pleaded for probation instead of the maximum five years imprisonment that he faces under the Probation of Offenders Act.