Conceding it erred, the Supreme Court has released four Madhya Pradesh natives who were sent to jail by it in November 2008, in a 1991 murder-cum-riot case, without affording them a hearing.
This was the fourth time that the matter came up before the court, as on earlier three occasions the court had failed to resolve the issue related to wrongful imprisonment of the four accused.
A four-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Wednesday ordered release of Bhoja, Puran, Balveer and Raghubir, conceding that they had been sent to jail without being given an opportunity to have their say in the court proceedings – a serious violation of the principles of natural justice.
When the mistake was pointed out by counsel Aftab Ali Khan for the four accused, the CJIâs bench, which also included Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice Altmas Kabir and Justice R.V. Raveendran, on April 20 promised to correct the judicial mistake, if committed, in the first week of May.
But following news reports on the queer judicial mistake, the court promptly took up the matter Wednesday and rectified it.
The four – Bhoja, Puran, Balveer and Raghubir – all residents of Negma village of Shivpuri district in Madhya Pradesh were originally convicted by a Shivpuri trial court in October 1991 in a murder-cum-riot case along with four others from the village – Sugar Singh, Laxman, Onkar and Ramesh.
The eight subsequently went in appeal to the Gwalior bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, which acquitted them all in January 2003.
This led the state government to move the Supreme Court, challenging the acquittal of four of the eight persons – Sugar Singh, Laxman, Onkar and Ramesh – of murder charges.
But in November 2008, Justice Arijit Pasayatâs bench restored the conviction of all eight, without hearing Bhoja, Puran, Balveer and Raghubir.
They could not get an opportunity to have their say in the court hearings as the state government had not challenged their acquittal and they had not received any notice to appear in the court to defend themselves.
But Justice Pasayatâs bench went on to restore their conviction and 6-year-long sentence on charges of rioting and culpable homicide not amounting to murder, imposed by the Shivpuri sessions court in 1991.
The four eventually surrendered to the court in November 2008 and sought review of its order jailing them. But the court dismissed their review petition, repeating the mistake.
The four subsequently moved the apex court yet again through a curative petition, which was heard by a bench of chief justice and three other judges.
But while deciding the curative petition, the four judge bench ended up ordering release of four others, against whom the state had come in appeal to the court, while virtually forgetting all about the other four, who had been sent behind bar without being heard. This was the mistake committed the third time.
The court eventually corrected the mistake Wednesday in its fourth attempt.