Observing that “the mindset to cause damage to public property and infrastructure is an attack on the common man”, a Delhi court sentenced AAP MLA Somnath Bharti to two-year imprisonment for leading a mob which tried to break the boundary wall of AIIMS and pelted stones at the hospital’s security staff when they intervened.
The prosecution had argued that on September 9, 2016, Bharti and the other accused — Jagat Saini, Dileep Jha, Sandeep Sonu and Rakesh Pandey, and about 300 unknown associates of the MLA — broke the boundary wall of AIIMS with a JCB to create an access to the premier medical institute.
Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ravindra Pandey, in his order sentencing Bharti, wrote, “The court is of the view that the mindset to cause damage to public property and infrastructure is the attack on the common man. Infrastructure and public property of the country are not of any leader, party or government but these are national assets. The infrastructure is built with the contribution of every poor, every taxpayer, middle class and every section of society. While exercising democratic rights, people must not forget about national duty to preserve national assets and resources meant for each and every citizen.”
Bharti’s lawyer, senior advocate Hari Haran, asked the court to grant him a lenient sentence and benefit under the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958. However, the court declined, stating that he “is a well-educated person having qualification of M.Sc. (IIT-Delhi) and he is also a law graduate and a Member of Legislative Assembly”.
“He was well aware about the consequences of committing the offence and he actively participated in the commission of offence… to damage public property belonging to AIIMS, New Delhi,” the court said.
Bharti has been granted bail so he may appeal against his conviction in a higher court. He was convicted for offences under IPC sections 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) and 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) read with section 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object). He has also been convicted under section 3 of The Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984, and IPC section 147. A fine of Rs 1,02,000 was imposed on Bharti, of which Rs 75,000 will be deposited to AIIMS as compensation and Rs 25,000 to the State.
The court in its judgment said the “prosecution has duly proved that the mob… gathered… there for demolishing the wall and fence possessed by AIIMS”. The court noted that five prosecution witnesses “deposed specifically in this regard that mob of 200-300 persons led by accused Somnath Bharti was shouting slogans, pelting stones and using criminal force by using hands and JCB machine to demolish the wall… and no material contradiction brought on record during cross-examination by the accused Somnath Bharti and witnesses remained consistent during their cross-examination.”
During the trial, Bharti had taken the defence that “there was proposal from PWD (Public Works Department) after various meetings, as per which a public thoroughfare was to be opened on road going along the AIIMS wall”. It was argued that a “drain was illegally occupied by AIIMS and AIIMS was using it for commercial activities”.
It was also argued in court that “the action for demolition of wall for opening the thoroughfare for residents of Gautam Nagar was planned and executed by PWD and AIIMS supported it”. The court, however, relied on two prosecution witnesses to state that this defence does “not hold any merit”.
While acquitting the co-accused, the court had observed that their involvement and presence at the place of incident “is not proved as no effective evidence brought on record by prosecution to connect the accused persons”.
AAP, in a statement after the verdict, said, “We respect and have full faith in the judiciary. However, we feel injustice has happened to Mr Somnath Bharti in this case. Somnath is a very popular leader and is loved by everyone in his constituency… People are quite sad in his constituency as the news of his conviction is spreading. Somnath is filing an appeal. We are confident that justice will be done to him at appellate level.”
Bharti, in a statement said, “I have full faith in the judiciary and am filing an appeal against the order… I am on bail and well-meaning friends are helping me draft an appeal to be filed with the superior court on utmost priority.”
Bharti’s lawyer, Mohammad Irshad, said as per the law, he has three months to secure an acquittal from a higher court, failing which he will be disqualified. Delhi Assembly speaker Ram Niwas Goel said he is seeking legal opinion on the issue.