Maharashtra governor can free Sanjay Dutt: Katju

Former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju, now chairman of the Press Council of India, today said Maharashtra governor K Sankarnarayanan should use his constitutional powers to pardon Bollywood star Sunjay Dutt, sentenced to a five-year jail sentence by the Supreme Court on Thursday morning.

Using his legal knowledge, Katju said Dutt should be pardoned under Article 161 of the Constitution, as he is cleared of any role in the 1993 serial terrorist blasts in Mumbai, and has already ''suffered''.

In a statement, Katju acknowledged that the Supreme Court had awarded Dutt the minimum imprisonment for possessing an unlicensed weapon of prohibited calibre.

But he said that under Article 161 the governor can grant a pardon or reduce the sentence of the Supreme Court.

"There is no doubt that the governor can grant pardon or reduce the sentence. For example, in the case of Commander Nanavati who was held guilty of murder, the governor gave him pardon although the minimum sentence for murder is a life sentence," Katju said.

''When the governor of Maharashtra can pardon Nanavati, surely he can grant pardon Sanjay," Katju said.

He said in Dutt's case there were extenuating circumstances, such as the fact that the event happened 20 years ago. "During this period, Sanjay suffered a lot and had a cloud hovering over his head throughout. He had to undergo various tribulations and indignities during this period. He had to go to court often, he had to take court permission for foreign shootings, and he could not get bank loans," Katju said.

The Press Council chief said Dutt had already spent 18 months in jail; had married and had two children. Moreover, ''His parents Sunil Dutt and Nargis worked for the good of society and the nation. Sunil and Nargis Dutt often went to border areas to give moral support to our brave jawans and did other social work for society," Katju said.

Not everyone was impressed by Katju's plea for the Hindi movie actor. His indirect praise for Dutt's raucous but socially acceptable 'Munnabhai' movies in his statement came in for some sniggers here and there.