The packed courtroom of Judge P.D. Kode fell completely silent as actor Sanjay Dutt stepped into the dock at 12.45 p.m. on Tuesday. The actor stood with bowed head and clasped hands, occasionally glancing at his lawyers. He appeared tense as the judge began to read out the charges against him in the 1993 serial-blasts case.
Judge Kode then paused for one dramatic moment before pronouncing his order. “The evidence against Dutt is his own confessional statement and the evidence of four witnesses, three of whom did not support the prosecution’s claim,” the judge said. He observed that it had not been established that the weapons and ammunition found on Dutt by the police were part of the arms consignment landed in India by Dawood Ibrahim for terrorist acts.
The court pronounced Dutt guilty -- under sections 3 and 7 of the Arms Act -- of illegal arms possession, but not guilty -- under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) -- of aiding and abetting the conspirators. “Considering the purpose (defence of family and himself) for which he was in possession of the weapons, he is not guilty...,” the judge said.
Dutt’s conviction under the Arms Act carries a sentence of five to 10 years. He has already served 18 months in prison. Judge Kode added: “During reasoning on your complaint, I gave a written order stating that you are not a terrorist and henceforth you will not be called one.”
Dutt relaxed visibly, tears rolling down his cheeks. "Your honour, I am the only working member of my family and I want to say something," he said. Judge Kode however, interrupted him, saying, "I will hear you at the right time. Or, you move an application through your lawyer."
As Dutt stepped out of the dock, and sat down next to his friends and co-accused Samir Hingora and Yusuf Nulwalla, utter commotion broke loose. Mediapersons hurried out of the court at the Arthur Road Jail to break the news on television, while Dutt's lawyer Satish Maneshinde rushed to the actor's side, forgetting he was appearing for Nulwalla too.
The court summoned Nulwalla to the dock and instructed him to call Maneshinde back. Judge Kode then held Nulwalla and Kersi Adajania, another of Dutt's friends, guilty of the same charge under the Arms Act as Dutt himself. They were also convicted of destroying evidence brought from the actor's house -- an AK-56 rifle, a pistol and ammunition.
Dutt immediately moved an application through Maneshinde for more time to surrender, saying that his daughter studied in New York and he needed to arrange for her maintenance. He also had to complete his pending film commitments.
"Sir, put yourself in my shoes," pleaded Dutt. "A lot of arrangements have to be made. Even my father died last year around this time and his death has to be probated." Tears welling up in his eyes again, Dutt added: "Please consider this for me."
Special Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam opposed the application. He said the court did not have the power to grant Dutt time to surrender. Others had been granted such time in very special circumstances.
In Dutt’s case, he said, it would be seen as special treatment for a film star. Judge Kode agreed, saying, “Yes, all the arrangements can be made by Dutt’s secretary.”
But the court observed that since Dutt has not been convicted under TADA, but for a lesser offence under the Arms Act, time could be granted till December 19. A sobbing Dutt stepped out of the dock and went straight out of the court.