DECIDING appeals in a case of kidnapping and ransom, the Bombay High Court has dropped stringent charges of Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) against the accused observing that the police had failed to prove the accused’s criminal antecedent. The judgment will set a precedent for all those cases where cognisance of crime is not taken within the prescribed time of 10 years preceding the crime in which MCOCA is applied.
Among other requirements, invocation of MCOCA requires the prosecution to establish that a member or members of the crime syndicate have been chargesheeted more than once within the preceding 10 years from the registration of the present crime.
Though enacted in 1999 to combat organised crime and terrorism, the law has often witnessed its application in cases of abduction, gang wars and robbery. The present case, the HC decided, fell in the category of abduction with the intent of ransom.
To have the provision of “continuing unlawful activity”, one of the requirements for invoking MCOCA, the HC asserted, “Though the witnesses have referred to several other crimes allegedly registered against the accused, for reasons not known, the prosecution has not produced any chargesheet filed against the accused and in respect of which cognisance was taken by the competent court prior to registration of the crime in the present case.”
The prosecution, it said, therefore had failed to establish a minimum requirement of two chargesheets against the accused before the competent court, which had to take cognisance of such an offence. “The prosecution has therefore failed to establish one of the essential requirements of ‘continuing unlawful activity’. Consequently, the prosecution has failed to establish that the accused had indulged in continuing unlawful activity. This being the case, the accused cannot be held guilty for offences under the provisions of MCOC Act,” the HC ruled.
In 2004, four men were convicted and sentenced to serve life term under charges of kidnapping for ransom, wrongful confinement and robbery, and provisions of MCOCA for carrying out their modus operandi in the form of an organised crime syndicate.
As a result, their punishment was mainly divided into a life term with Rs 25,000 fine, seven years jail term with Rs 10,000 fine and five years imprisonment with a fine of Rs 5 lakh. The trial court pronounced its verdict in 2009.
To lure people, the accused reportedly published in a newspaper an ad, which sought models for an audition of a TV serial. Delhi-based Pradip Solanki, who had a career as a model and actor in TV soaps, chanced upon the opportunity and flew down with his relative.
However, four men — Majhar, Sartaj, Rajesh and Ramesh — abducted the duo and demanded Rs 1 crore ransom. The kidnappers put the abductees in a house on the Gujarat highway. Solanki’s brother-in-law Manoj, who had been receiving the ransom calls all this while, informed the airport police.
The Mumbai Police worked in tandem with the local Gujarat Police and raided the house where the victims had
After their arrests, various provisions of criminal law were applied. The trial court was also provided chargesheets proving their previous criminal records. The prosecution established that the accused were part of an organised crime syndicate with Aryan Shah alias Buntey Pandey as their mastermind, who is on the run.
Various crimes had been registered against these men with Pandey facing prosecution in Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Mumbai.
The HC however noted that though the FIR in the present case against the accused was registered on October 23, 2004, all the previous criminal records, the prosecution relied upon, showed chargesheets of later dates.
Justice V K Tahilramani and Justice Anuja Prabhudessai, said, “It is to be noted that the FIR in the present case was registered on 23.10.2004. Though the FIR No. I-64/04 was registered on 18.2.2004 i.e. prior to registration of the FIR in the present case, the chargesheet in respect of the said crime was filed on 10.02.2005 i.e. after registration of the present crime and the cognisance of the same was also taken on the same date i.e.10.02.2005.”
And therefore, the HC only upheld the charges of abduction and wrongful confinement against the accused.