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This article is written by Palash Bhatkoti, pursuing a Certificate Course in Advanced Criminal Litigation & Trial Advocacy from LawSikho.com.

Introduction

Advocate Satish Manshinde is a renowned lawyer practicing predominately on the criminal side. His prowess in the field of law is evident from the fact that he has been a go to guy for many  politicians, celebrities and known personalities form their respective fields. One of his known cases is the “1993 Mumbai bomb blast” where he appeared for Sanjay Dutt.  Mr. Manshinde has also defended Salman khan in the “hit and run case” as well as the “1998 Black Buck Poaching case”

Recently he has been engaged by Rhea Chakrabarty in the Sushant Singh Rajput death case, which is now being investigated by the Central bureau of investigation (CBI). 

Some of his other notable appearances are “Rakhi Sawant’s abatement to suicide case”, “Mumbai police Inspector Daya Nayak’s disproportionate assets case” and “ Shoban Mehta’s match fixing case”, to name a few.         

He got enrolled with the Karnataka University of law where he pursued bachelors in commerce and law. 

He joined the practice of law in the year 1983 and started out as a junior to late. Shri Ram Jethmalani. After having worked under the tutelage of Mr. Jethmalani for ten years, he branched out into his independent practice, only to be among the best lawyers in the country today.

The Webinar was organized by LawSikho on 10.09.2020 and moderated by Mr. Abhyuday Agrawal (COO at Lawsikho).

Abhyuday-    Sir, to begin with, please enlighten us about your background in law, the formative years and the journey so far.       

I entered in practice in the year 1983. I was a serious student only in the last couple of years of my college days. Apart from the last couple of years I was a regular backbencher in the college. I was also a student leader and as a natural consequence I led many protests and agitations because of which my  principal in the college got really concerned  about me, deviating from the academics and gave me a warning that if I don’t get disciplined and serious about my studies, he will throw me out. Having said that, the principal gave me a separate room in the college where I used to study at least 12-14 hours a day. Subsequently, I passed college with good ranks and was also awarded the outstanding student award in the moot court competition.

Thereafter, I came to Bombay and joined Late. Shri Ram Jethmalani in 1983 and practiced under him for about a decade. With  Mr. Jethmalani, I got a variety of exposure in criminal law, civil disputes, labour law, constitutional matters, to name a few. Even COFEPOSA(Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act) 1974 was widely used law at that time and I did a number of matters challenging the detention orders under COFEPOSA which were akin to MISA(Maintenance of Internal Security Act),1971 and NSA(National Security Act) 1980.

Experiences of handling TADA matters  

I remember having appeared in multiple cases under TADA across various states in India. I am often described as the “terrorist expert”.

In 1986 itself I did my first case under TADA and subsequently from the year 1991 onwards my practice shifted towards hardcore crimes. During that time I appeared for Dawood Ibrahim, Arun Gowli, Chota Rajan and other gangsters.

TADA had the following special provisions like:

  1. Special Court to try offence.
  2. Appeal directly to the Supreme Court from the final judgment of the Special Court.
  3. Statements made to the DCP rank official were admissible in evidence.
  4. The Provisons for grant of bail were very stringent. Securing bail in TADA was almost impossible.
  5. The period of filing charge-sheet was 180 days.

TADA was enacted because of the growing menace of terrorism in Punjab, however, with the passage of time, the cases under TADA started spreading across India.

The First case in Maharashtra under TADA was that of General Vaidya, where he was shot dead by the militants in Pune.

General Viadya was the Chief of Army staff at the time when operation blue star was conducted in the Golden temple Amritsar. As General Vaidya and other high ranking officials of the army had bombarded the Golden Temple during the operation blue star, they were on the hit list of the terrorists.

The fear psychosis in the TADA cases was so high that the magistrate would refuse to even conduct the remand proceedings in the courts. The remand proceedings were conducted in the open area with police protection. Even the trial of these individuals was conducted in the jail premises in which the make-shift court was heavily guarded by the police.

However, the stricter the law, the more it’s prone to misuse. The bail was refused in even the most genuine cases, because the bail provisions were harsh. The period of filing charge-sheet was 180 days which meant that even default bail could be granted only after 6 months from the date of arrest. The statements made to officers were admissible in evidence because of which there were increased cases of coerced confessions. 

Because of such rampant abuse of the law, there was a huge uproar in the civil society which was further augmented by the change in the political will and subsequently in the year 1987, following amendments were made in TADA:

  1. The time limit for filing Charge-sheet was reduced from 180 days to 80 days.
  2. After every 180 days, the State Government would have to set up an Advisory Board which would  determine as to which of the existing cases under the TADA should continue and in which cases the proceedings under TADA have to be dropped.
  3. The confession now came to be recorded before the magistrate instead of the police officer.     

Mumbai bomb blast case in 1993

The fateful incident was horrendous and sickening. As many as 256 people were dead and thousands got severely injured. The Stock market area was brutally bombarded to the extent that the building had to be closed down for months. 

The 1993 attack was a retaliation to the Babri Masjid Demolition. The blast was so meticulously planned, that the timing was fixed keeping in view that the members of a particular community would be away for offering prayers and thus collateral damage would be miniscule. 

In that case, about 175 people were charge-sheeted. Sanjay Dutt and 5 others were also arrested for possession of fire arms. It was alleged that Ak47 Rifle was used in the conducing ancillary operations related to blasts, however no rifle was ever found to be in possession of Mr. Sanjay Dutt.

Initially, Sanjay Dutt was granted bail by the High Court, but later, the same judge rejected his bail on the ground of change of circumstances. Even the Supreme Court in the year 1994, rejected his bail application. Later Mr. Sunil Dutt approached me requesting me to take the case and I happily obliged by him and ultimately secured bail for junior Dutt.  Sanjay Dutt’s bail also helped 75 co- accused person in the same case who cited Sanjay dutt’s bail as a reference and each of them got bail.

The Trial in the 1993 Bomb blast case took about 14 years to conclude in which Sanjay Dutt was convicted only for the offence of possession of arms as the charges under TADA against him were dropped. While some 29 accused got convicted and were awarded death sentence and rest are serving life imprisonment.

On the procedural aspects of the law, I think that the entire purpose of having a special fast track court has defeated since trials are taking at-least a decade to get concluded. Further, a very few trials have actually reached their destination because of which accused are languishing in jail.

Subsequently, owing to the rampant abuse of TADA, the parliament repealed it in the year 1995. Though the TADA has been repealed long back, but there was a saving clause within the act which authorized the prosecution of any person under TADA even after its repeal, if the accused is found to be indulged in any offence prohibited by the act during the time when it was in force. That is why, as recent as there years ago Abu Salem was being tried in the TADA court in Bombay.

Well, according to me, the problem of terrorism can never be contained by bringing stricter and harsher laws. The society has to become more accommodating and the political will should augment the spirit of the constitution and human rights. The problem of terrorism is that of ideology. The policies of the government should be flexible enough to accommodate everyone’s view and efficient enough to deal with disruptions whenever required. 

The session was then guided towards Questions and Answer segment where the house was thrown open for the participants to indulge in a discussion with the Chief Speaker. Following questions were asked during the course of discussion.

Questions by participants

Apart from CrPc, Evidence and IPC, what are the otherareas of law in which a criminal lawyer can look to practice?  

Ans– Various special acts like the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1888; The Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988; The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985 (NDPS), etc. In-fact I recently appeared for Showik Chakrabarty(brother of Rhea Chakrabarty) in a NDPS case.  NDPS in particular is a very technical law. The defence counsel should always be vigilant at every stage of investigation. The defence lawyer should be smart enough to pin-point the lacunae in investigation. It’s very important to check the CFSL report and having a sound knowledge of drug composition. Another area of growing practice is the PMLA, Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, the SEBI laws, Customs Act, etc. However, whatever area you chose, don’t just jump to the High Court and Supreme Court. A very firm grounding in the trial courts is required to understand the procedural law. You cannot just understand and master the law by reading books and commentaries. Years of practice is required before you set foot in the constitutional courts. How can a person argue a writ petition or a criminal appeal unless he has a thorough knowledge of the trial court’s work? Basic things like filing an injunction application, getting an interim order or admission/denial of documents are all basic skills you learn in trial courts.

The Bar Council of India wanted to introduce a system where a minimum of five years of trial court practice was required before starting practice at the higher courts. I personally welcome the step of the BCI and hope that it is implemented in letter and spirit.

Is it permissible/possible to arrest a minister or a bureaucrat or a foreigner under the TADA, Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) or Prevention of Terrorism Act?

Ans– Yes. There is no embargo. You see Lalu Prasad Yadav is being prosecuted under the PCA. Similarly, Virbhadra Singh(erstwhile chief minister of Himachal Pradesh) is being prosecuted under the PMLA. Even in Maharashtra, a senior politician who was mayor of a corporation was arrested because his car was used for ferrying people injured in J.J. Hospital shootout.

How should a lawyer handle all the labelling and trolling that comes with this job? Like  you said, more often than not you are termed as a “terrorist lawyer”. Also, there is a growing media frenzy these days particularly in sensitive cases like that of Sushant Singh Rajput death case, where you have appeared for Showik Chakrabarty. How would advice a lawyer to tackle these situations?

Ans- Ethically as long as you’re committed to your job and not committing an offence yourself while performing your duty as lawyer, nothing should stop you from moving ahead. Like advising client to forge a document or destroy evidence or dispose weapons of murder. Also, make sure you don’t have any conflict of interest in the case that you are representing.

Always stick to your conscience and you will get the path. When I defended the terrorists in General Vaidya’s murder case I was termed as anti-national. Likewise, when I defended Sanjay Dutt I was branded as a terrorist lawyer. Basically, all this labelling is of no consequence if you do your job diligently and faithfully. As a lawyer, your duty is to fearlessly carry out your job in the court. 

As far as the media trial is concerned, the Supreme Court in RK Anand’s case has given guidelines on the conduct of the lawyer while appearing in sensitive matters inviting public gaze. You should not go and air your feelings with respect to the merits of the case. This is highly unacceptable as it amounts to affecting the administration of justice. The media should also indulge in sensible reporting and respect the course of the law. Formulating opinion in the news studio affects the court proceedings and consequently tampers with the decision of the case.      


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