Pakistani microbiologist Mohammed Khalil Chishti was today acquitted by the Supreme Court of the murder charge in a 20-year-old criminal case with a direction to the authorities to complete all the "formalities" for his "smooth return" to his country.
However, the apex court declined to interfere with his conviction for voluntarily causing hurt under section 324 of the Indian Penal Code(IPC) and served him with the sentence already undergone by him in prison.
A bench of justices P Sathasivam and Ranjan Gogoi noted that 82-year-old Chishti was in the jail for almost one year and four months during his stay in the country and that "ends of justice will be met by serving him with the period of imprisonment already undergone".
"In the light of the above discussion, even if we accept the evidence of prosecution witnesses that Chishti was having a sword and a prosecution witness sustained injuries at his instance, considering his individual act, he can only be convicted under Section 324 of IPC...
"... Taking note of his age and of the fact that he was in custody from April 14, 1992 till May 9, 1992 during the trial and again from January 31, 2011 to April 12, 2012 (roughly one year and four months), we feel that the ends of justice would be met by altering the sentence to the period already undergone. The conviction and sentence is modified to the extent mentioned and the criminal appeal is disposed of accordingly," the bench said.
While clearing him of the murder charge, the bench said there was no scope for applying section 34 of the IPC which deals with the offence of common intention.
"Having regard to the facts and circumstances of the role attributed to Khalil, we are of the view that there is no scope for invoking the applicability of section 34 IPC against him. Even independent witnesses do not attribute any overt act to him," it said.
The bench asked authorities to return Chishti all his documents including the passport and said he was free to return to Pakistan without any restriction.
Considering Chishti's age and qualification, the bench asked authorities to take all possible steps for his "smooth return" home.
"It is further directed that if the passport or any other document of the appellant is in the custody of the trial court or any other authority of the Government of India, they are directed to return the same to him and he is free to return to his country without any restriction.
"Taking note of his age and academic qualification etc., to facilitate such course, the concerned department of the Government of India is directed to issue necessary visa and complete all formalities for his smooth return to his country," the court said.
The bench also referred to its May 10 order and said since he is not required to be kept in custody and no further proceeding is pending against him, the surety of Rs five lakh be released to him or his nominee.
On May 10, the apex court had asked Chishti to deposit his passport and furnish Rs five lakh in cash as as security within two weeks before the Supreme Court registry.
"By order of May 10, 2012, this court directed Mohammad Khalil Chisti – being a national of Pakistan - or his nominee to deposit Rs five lakhs as security with the registry of this court within a period of two weeks from that date and on fulfilling the above condition, the appellant was permitted to leave India and visit his home country, i.E., Pakistan.
"By another order of September 17, 2012, this court had directed the registry to invest the amount deposited by the appellant in an interest bearing account in any nationalised bank initially for a period of one year. In view of our conclusion that no further custody is required, the registry is directed to return the said amount to Mohammed Khalil Chisti or his nominee forthwith," the bench said.
The two other accused in the case, Yasir Chisti and Akil Chisti, were also held guilty only under section 324 of IPC and were directed to be released forthwith.
"In the light of the evidence and conclusion in respect of Yasir Chisti (accused no 1) and Akil Chisti (accused no 3), taking note of their individual acts, they can only be convicted under Section 324 of IPC and also in view of the fact that they have served approximately 11 and 10 months respectively, the same would be sufficient and no further imprisonment is required, hence, both of them are directed to be released forthwith," it said.
The court also noted, "In the case on hand, we have already pointed out there is enough material to show that in the course of the very same incident Farukh (accused no 4) and Akil also sustained injuries. In fact, Farukh sustained grievous injury by use of sharp edged weapon. However, these injuries were not explained at all by the prosecution."
"The analysis of the materials clearly shows that two versions of the incident adduced by the prosecution are discrepant with each other.
"In such a situation where the prosecution leads two sets of evidence each one which contradicts and strikes at the other and shows it to be unreliable, the result would necessarily be that the court would be left with no reliable and trustworthy evidence upon which the conviction of the accused might be based," the court said.