INDIA. Mumbai: Nearly 24 years after the crime that shocked the Hindi film industry, the Bombay High Court on Thursday upheld the acquittal of film producer and Tips Industries co-founder Ramesh Taurani in the 1997 murder case of music baron Gulshan Kumar, but confirmed the conviction of the accused Abdul Rauf Merchant and awarded life imprisonment to his brother Abdul Rashid Merchant by reversing Sessions Court earlier judgment.
On August 12, 1997 music baron Gulshan Kumar was shot dead while exiting a temple at Jeet Nagar located at Andheri West in northwest Mumbai. The assailants had pumped in 16 bullets, killing him on the spot. It was the prosecution’s case that the business rivalry between Kumar and Taurani was the motive for the murder. It also cited differences between Kumar and music director Nadeem Saifee, who decided to kill Kumar by hiring gangster Abu Salem from Dawood Ibrahim’s gang. Saifee left for London in June 1997 and has not returned to India since. Saifee and Salem were shown as absconding accused in the case and the trial against them could not proceed. Salem had reportedly asked for a Rs 10 crore ransom from Kumar. Salem was later deported to India from Portugal.
As a result of Thursday’s judgment, the conviction of the accused Abdul Rauf Merchant was upheld. His brother Abdul Rashid Merchant, who was acquitted by the Sessions Court earlier, was convicted for murder and criminal conspiracy and was directed to surrender before either the sessions court or the D N Nagar police station in Andheri. The acquittal of Producer Ramesh Taurani was upheld.
The court was dealing with the appeals filed by both Abdul Rauf Merchant challenging his conviction and also the state government challenging the acquittal of Taurani and Abdul Rashid Merchant.
On Thursday, a division bench comprising Justices S S Jadhav and N R Borkar, in its judgment noted that it was “a cold-blooded murder. We have no doubt whatsoever that the prosecution has proved that the appellant Abdul Rauf Merchant, has caused the homicidal death of deceased Gulshan Kumar by firing and causing bullet injuries beyond a reasonable doubt. He had no personal animosity or grudge against Kumar but “committed the ghastly act since he was hired by music director Nadeem Saifee and Abu Salem who wanted to satisfy their vendetta against the deceased”.
The bench confirmed the conviction of Rauf for murder, criminal conspiracy, and other charges under the Arms Act. “Rauf wouldn’t be entitled to any remission (reduction of sentence) given his criminal antecedents. In the interest of justice and society at large, he is not entitled to any leniency. After the killing, he was absconding and was arrested only in 2001. In 2009, he was granted furlough, but he did not surrender and had to be arrested in 2016 again,” the bench noted. The bench upheld his conviction and the life sentence imposed on him but quashed and set aside his conviction under IPC sections 392 and 397.
Similarly, the bench quashed the acquittal of Rauf’s brother Abdul Rashid Merchant by the Sessions Court. “The acquittal of another accused Abdul Rashid Merchant is quashed. He is convicted under sections 302, 120(b) of the IPC and section 27 of the Indian Arms Act. The accused is sentenced to life imprisonment. He is directed to surrender forthwith to the trial court or the D N Nagar police station,” the high court said in its order. If Rashid fails to surrender, the sessions court can issue a non-bailable warrant against him, the bench said.
While confirming the acquittal of Taurani, the bench said that there is no cogent and convincing evidence to establish that Taurani had conspired with music director Nadeem Saifee or Abu Salem and hence his acquittal does not call for any intervention. The prosecution had maintained that Nadeem Saifi and Taurani had paid money to Abu Salem to eliminate Kumar.
Sessions court case
On April 29, 2002, a sessions court acquitted 18 of the 19 accused and convicted only Abdul Rauf Merchant, under Indian Penal Code sections 302 (murder), 307 (murder attempt), 120(b) (criminal conspiracy), 392 (robbery) and 397 (causing grievous hurt in robbery) and section 27 (possession of arms) of the Indian Arms Act.
The court commends testimony of eyewitnesses
It is a case of direct evidence. In the present case, we need to appreciate the conduct of the eyewitnesses who had not just claimed that they are witnesses but without showing any apathy had helped the deceased (Kumar) and the driver by taking them to the hospital, reporting the matter to the police and did not hesitate to stand true to the test of scrutiny, the court said.
Advocate Satish Maneshinde appeared for Rauf and Rashid Merchant, Public Prosecutor Prajakta Shinde appeared for the State. Advocate Satish Maneshinde and Assistant Public Prosecutor Madhavi Mahtre appeared in the appeal filed by the State against the acquittal of Ramesh Tourani.