Gulshan Kumar murder: Bombay HC upholds life term for killer
The Bombay high court (HC) on Thursday upheld the life imprisonment handed down to Abdul Rauf Dawood Merchant, a henchman of fugitive gangster Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, and also convicted and sentenced his brother Abdul Rashid to life imprisonment for their direct involvement in the August 1997 murder of T-Series music label founder and Hindi film producer Gulshan Kumar Dua.
Kumar was brutally killed on August 19, 1997 outside Shiva temple at Jeet Nagar in Andheri East. He visited the temple at 10am, prayed for about 15 minutes and was about to enter his car to return home, when an assailant shot at him in the back. As he was falling down, another assailant came forward and started firing at him. In an attempt to save himself, the deceased got up and walked a few steps, when the third assailant fired several rounds, killing him on the spot. Kumar was immediately rushed to Cooper Hospital where he was declared brought dead and later 18 bullets were retrieved from the body. Nineteen persons, including the father and brother of the Merchant brothers, were arrested in connection with the murder and the prosecution examined 45 witnesses to bring home their guilt. On April 29, 2002, Mumbai sessions court acquitted all accused, but Abdul Rauf and sentenced him to life imprisonment.
A division bench of justice Sadhana Jadhav and justice NR Borkar directed Abdul Rashid to forthwith surrender either before the trial court or before the DN Nagar police station, where the first information report (FIR) was registered in connection with the high-profile murder. He has also been directed to surrender his passport to the police. The HC has directed the trial court to issue a non-bailable warrant and secure Abdul Rashid’s presence for serving the life term, if he fails to turn up within a week.
The bench took serious note of Abdul Rauf’s conduct, especially that he was absconding for a considerable period of time before and even after his conviction, and declared that he will not be entitled to any remission. The HC has, however, upheld acquittal of Gulshan Kumar’s business rival, Ramesh Taurani of Tips Industries. Taurani, too, was prosecuted for being part of the conspiracy to kill Kumar, but was acquitted by the trial court.
Abdul Rauf was absconding for a long time after the murder and was arrested only in January 2001. In March 2009 he again jumped parole and had fled to Bangladesh, where he was arrested at the behest of Indian authorities and eventually brought back to India in November 2016. Abdul Rauf had challenged his conviction by filing an appeal before HC on several grounds, whereas the state government had challenged acquittal of his brother Abdul Rashid and Taurani. HC on Thursday dismissed Abdul Rauf’s appeal and also convicted Abdul Rashid after noticing that at least five eye witnesses had identified the brothers - as two of the three assailants who shot dead Gulshan Kumar.
Two of them – a temple trustee and the driver of the deceased – were accompanying the victim at the time of the incident. The driver also received a gunshot wound on his thigh, when he tried to save his employer. Other two witnesses were local residents, who tried to chase the three assailants. One of them had driven the car when Gulshan Kumar’s driver put him in back seat of the car. The fifth important witness was the taxi driver who was thrown out of his vehicle by Abdul Rauf and his car was taken away by the assailants. “This is not a case of a sole eyewitness. There were five eyewitnesses. Each one had emphasised the role of Accused Nos. 16 (Abdul Rashid) and 19 (Abdul Rauf) at different stages,” said the bench. “The attack mounted upon the deceased was so graphically explained by them, that unless they had seen the incident, they could not have been consistent in the cross-examination also,” said the bench while sealing fate of the Merchant brothers.
As regards Taurani, the HC found serious lapses in the police investigation. “In the present case, there are serious lapses in the investigation and there is no cogent and convincing evidence to hold that Respondent No. 1 (Taurani) had spoken to Abu Salem in Dubai,” said the bench.
It noted that one witness, Arif Lakdawala, an acquaintance of Abu Salem, had said that he was present when Nadeem and Taurani handed over contract money and was also present when Taurani had contacted Abu Salem, but there was no probe as regards to the Dubai phone number. “There is no investigation to verify as to whether that phone number was used by Abu Salem at that time,” the HC said in this regard.
The bench concluded there was no need to interfere with Taurani’s acquittal, especially when an application was made to arraign Lakdawala as an accused in the case, but it was rejected by the trial court and the rejection has attained finality.