A popular Indian film star, Sanjay Dutt, has been sentenced to six years in prison for illegally acquiring arms from gangsters involved in serial bombings that rocked Mumbai in 1993. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, Dutt was among the last to be sentenced in a trial that has dragged on for more than a decade.
The sentence was handed down to Sanjay Dutt by a special court as a transfixed nation tracked the proceedings on television.
Judge Pramod Kode sentenced him to six years in prison for unauthorized possession of an automatic rifle and a pistol. The weapons were obtained from key plotters of the serial bombings that rocked Mumbai in 1993.
Last year, Dutt was cleared of the more serious charge of conspiracy in the bomb attacks, which killed 257 people.
Judge Kode said that although he was not sure Dutt intended to commit a terrorist act, merely having the guns "shows scant respect to the law. In no sense can it be said to be a minor offense."
Chief Public Prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam says the prosecuting attorneys had argued that the actor did not possess the weapons for protection, as he had pleaded.
Nikam says they had cited Dutt's close association with underworld figures. Nikam said they had asked the court to take into consideration the character of the offender.
The sentence sent shockwaves through Bollywood, as India's movie industry is called, which had hoped for leniency for the hugely popular star. Dutt himself had told reporters earlier "I am hoping and praying I will be let off."
Reacting to the sentence on television, Bollywood personalities termed the verdict "harsh," and "unfortunate," saying the actor had already undergone much trauma through the 12 years he waited for the sentencing.
Dutt's popularity hit an all-time high last year with the release of the film "Lage Raho Munnabhai."
The actor's life has been as dramatic as the films in which he acts. The son of a superstar couple has fought drug addiction and coped with a broken marriage. His fans seem him as a person who went astray, but emerged a better man.
The actor spent about a year and a half in prison after he was arrested in 1995. His lawyers say he will appeal the sentence.
Dutt was among the last four to be sentenced in a marathon trial that has dragged on since 1995. Of the 100 people who were convicted, 12 have been sentenced to death. Twenty got life sentences, while the others will serve between three and 14 years in jail.
Police say a Muslim gangster ordered the bombings in Mumbai to avenge the deaths of hundreds of Muslims in riots that followed the destruction of a mosque by a Hindu mob in 1992.