KOLKATA: Chhatradhar Mahato, a top naxalite commander, who made an abortive bid on the life of the then West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in 2008, got a major reprieve on Thursday from the Calcutta High Court, which commuted his life sentence to 10 years in prison.
A division bench of the court comprising Justices Mumtaz Khan and Jay Sengupta also made an identical reduction in the sentences of three of his associates, while it acquitted two others in several cases of bomb and landmine blasts.
Mahato was the face of the tribal movement in Lalgarh in West Bengal's Jangalmahal region against alleged police atrocities.
The naxalite leader had united the local tribal population which had virtually 'liberated' Lalgarh and forced security forces to vacate their camps and retreat.
He was arrested by the state's CID in an undercover operation from Pirka village on September 26, 2009.
The Lalgarh agitation had started after police raided tribal homes and made "indiscriminate" arrests in the wake of the failed attempt on the life of Bhattacharjee.
Ram Vilas Paswan, who then also was a union minister, and his ministerial colleague Jitin Prasada had narrowly escaped the landmine blast.
The HC, besides commuting the life sentence of Mahato, the convenor of People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCPA) to 10 years, also identically reduced the prison terms of Sukhsanti Baske, Sambhu Soren and Sagun Murmu.
Two others-- Raja Sarkhel and Prasun Chatterjee-- awarded life term for alleged sedition by the trial court-- were acquitted for want of evidence.
While Sarkhel and Chatterjee will be released after a copy of the court order reaches the correctional home where they are lodged, Mahato and three others arrested in September 2009 will walk free once they will have completed their 10- year jail term next month.
The six were convicted by Midnapore Additional District and Sessions Judge Kaberi Bose in 2015 in connection with several cases between 2008 and 2011 including Kantapahari bomb blast in Lalgarh, Jnaneswari Express case and the landmine blast targeting Bhattacharjee, Paswan and others.