Don’t lecture us, Supreme Court tells home secretary in Abu Salem case

NEW DELHI: The submission of the Union home secretary that Abu Salem’s appeal against his conviction be first decided on merit and not the issue of honouring of the Centre’s assurance to Portugal for not keeping him in jail for more than 25 years as it will arise only in 2030, drew the ire of the Supreme Court, which pulled up the officer on Thursday for “lecturing” the judiciary on how to proceed in the case.
A bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh, at the very outset of the hearing, expressed its disapproval and objection to the “tenor” of the affidavit filed by Ajay Bhalla and said that it was not acceptable. The court said “the officer is no body to tell the court what to do and not to do”.
Bhalla in his affidavit told the court that the Centre is bound by the assurance given to Portugal while seeking extradition of the gangster in 2002, as per which Salem was not to be given death sentence or imprisonment for more than 25 years. The secretary in his reply also contended that the issue of compliance of the assurance is premature at this stage as his 25-year period would expire in November 2030. He said that the appeal filed by the gangster against his conviction be decided first.
“It is respectfully submitted that the government of India is bound by the assurance… The period of 25 years, which is mentioned in the assurance, will be abided by the Union of India at an appropriate time subject to the remedies which may be available. The question of the Union of India honouring its assurance will arise only when the period of 25 years is to expire. This date is November 10, 2030. Before the said date, the convict cannot raise any arguments based on the said assurance. Therefore, the contention of the petitioner about noncompliance of assurance is premature and based on the hypothetical surmises and can never be raised in present proceedings… The attempt of convict to club that assurance with merits of the present case is legally untenable as the appeal needs to be decided in accordance with Section 19 of the TADA, read with other provisions governing criminal procedure,” Bhalla said in his affidavit.
Taking objection to his statement, the bench said, “It is not for him to tell us what to do and what not to do. The home secretary is nobody to tell us what we should do”.
The bench said that the court cannot force a convict to argue against conviction when he had accepted the conviction and just wanted to argue on sentence. It said that the court will rule when his custody starts as his lawyer Rishi Malhotra contended that his custody in Portugal be also considered while calculating the 25-year period.
The court said that the expedition was done on the basis of assurance of the Centre and the convict was allowed to raise the issue, and it is neither “premature nor based on hypothetical surmises” as alleged by the secretary. “We do not appreciate the tenor of the affidavit. If a convict accepts guilt then the government cannot tell the court to decide the case on merit,” it said.