Nearly 40 years after the then Railway minister Lalit Narayan Mishra was killed in a bomb blast at a function in Bihar, four men on Monday were pronounced guilty of his murder.
Four persons, including Mishra, were killed and 25 injured in the blast during inauguration of the Samastipur-Muzaffarpur broad gauge line on January 2, 1975. The four convicts — Santoshanand Avdoot (75) Sudevanand Avdoot (75), Ranjan Dwivedi and Gopaljee (both in late 60s) — have been members of Ananda Marga group, which was accused of anti-government activities at the time.
District and Sessions Judge Vinod Goel convicted all the four on the charges of murder, criminal conspiracy, and causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons.
The arguments to determine the quantum of sentence in the case would now be heard by the court on December 15.
Two of Mishra’s grandsons were present in court on Monday. Both in their 20s, Vaibhav Mishra and Sumit Mishra said while they welcomed the judgment, they “hoped that no one else had to go through the misery of a long trial like this”.
Santoshanand and Sudevanand, who were “sanyasis” with Ananda Marga, have also been held guilty under the Explosive Substances Act for using hand grenades in the attack. While Santoshanand has been held guilty of having taken the “extra” grenade to Delhi, Sudevanand was found to have been in possession of a grenade in Samastipur.
This is one of the longest running trials in India, starting in Patna in 1975 and then transferred to Delhi in 1979 by the Supreme Court after the CBI complained of “interference” by the then Bihar government. Over 22 different judges in the trial courts have heard the case, and one of the accused in the case died during the trial.
The accused had also approached the Supreme Court to quash the trial in 2012, but the plea was dismissed by the apex court, which said that the case could not be quashed simply because it had not been concluded in 37 years.
The judgment was pronounced in a packed courtroom with a number of sanyasis from Ananda Marga as well as the family members of the accused.
More than 200 witnesses, including 164 prosecution witnesses, and over 7,000 pages of documents were examined in this case over the trial period. Since 2012, the court has been hearing the case on a daily basis. According to CBI counsel N K Sharma, the time taken for the statement of the accused alone was six years due to the volume of witnesses and documents.
Except Gopaljee, all those listed in the chargesheet in the Mishra murder case were also named as accused in an attempt to murder case related to the bid on life of then Chief Justice of India A N Ray in Delhi on March 20, 1975. Santoshanand and Sudevanand were recently held guilty in the Ray case, even though Dwivedi was acquitted.