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Busting several myths

Author: Sandhya Jain
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: April 2, 2019
URL:      https://www.dailypioneer.com/2019/columnists/busting-several-myths.html

The NIA’s failure to present even an iota of evidence in the court in the Samjhauta Express blasts case has battered its reputation. There is no proof of funding either

The collapse of the Samjhauta Express bomb blasts case against anti-conversion crusader Aseemanand and his “co-conspirators”, Lokesh Sharma, Kamal Chauhan and Rajinder Chaudhary, on the March 21 Samjhauta Express Case, has trounced attempts by a previous regime to establish the bogey of “Hindu terror.” Aseemanand allegedly mentored people seeking revenge for attacks on Hindu temples (Akshardham, Gujarat; Raghunath Mandir, Jammu; and Sankat Mochan Mandir, Varanasi). The National Investigation Agency’s (NIA) failure to present even an iota of evidence in the court has battered its reputation.

Aseemanand has already been acquitted in Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid and Ajmer’s dargah blast cases. Living among tribals in Dangs, Gujarat, his ability to inspire terror attacks with trifling amounts like Rs 25,000 and Rs 40,000  seems laughable; no other sums are attributed to him.

The NIA case revolved around Sunil Joshi, who was murdered in December 2007 in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh. As no credible corroborative evidence was forwarded, the case collapsed once Aseemanand withdrew his confession, claiming it was coerced. As his plea of innocence before one judge clashed with his confession before another judge, special judge Jagdeep Singh upheld the forced confession plea. The shoddy probe thus helped those behind the killing of 68 people on the night of February 18-19, 2007, to get away scot-free.

Interestingly, the US Department of the Treasury informed the 1267 committee of the UN Security Council that Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) was behind the attacks and that Fazeel-A-Tul Shaykh Abu Mohammed Ameen Al-Peshawari; Arif Qasmani; Mohammed Yahya Mujahid; and Nasir Javaid had carried out train bombings in India. The 1267 committee stated on June 29, 2008, that these people were financed by proclaimed offender Dawood Ibrahim. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered an FIR and Safdar Nagori of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) admitted in October 2008 that the Samjhauta blasts were executed by SIMI activists with the help from LeT from Pakistan. The judge observed that the NIA did not follow these leads. Survivors reported that some people had got off the train midway but this line of investigation was totally neglected.

In 2010-11, the investigators began to pursue the  “Hindu terrorists” theory. Aseemanand “confessed” in January 2011 that on February 16, 2007, he met Sunil Joshi and Bharat Rateshwar at Balpur and was told to expect some “good news”; Joshi later told him that his (Joshi’s) men were behind Samjhauta and other incidents. Even prima facie, this does not suggest Aseemanand’s involvement in any conspiracy.

In NIA vs. Naba Kumar Sarkar @ Swami Aseemanand and others, Aseemanand denied confessing any crime to convict Abdul Khaleem in Chanchalguda Jail, Hyderabad. The judgement agreed that this was unlikely as Aseemanand was in solitary confinement. It noted that while the “confession” said Indresh Kumar, Pragya Thakur, Bharat Rateshwar and others also attended meetings (denied by them), the NIA had not charged them as co-accused.

According to the retracted confession, in March 2006, Sunil Joshi met Aseemanand at Shabridham and asked for money to purchase a SIM card and pistol from Jharkhand and received Rs 25,000. However, the NIA failed to prove that the SIM card or pistol was used to execute the Samjhauta Express blast. Besides, as the judgement observed, no material evidence was recovered from places associated with the alleged conspiracy, namely, Thakurghar, Shabridham and Balpur Mandir; instead the NIA took Aseemanand to unrelated places like Daman.

The prosecution claimed that Lokesh Sharma, Rajinder Chaudhary, Kamal Chauhan and Amit Hakla came to Old Delhi Railway Station from Indore on February 18, 2007, and stayed in railway dormitories but offered no evidence in this regard. There was no evidence (train tickets/reservations or other records) to establish that the accused people travelled from Indore to Nizamuddin station and then to Old Delhi Railway Station. Similarly, they allegedly escaped to Jaipur by train and then travelled to Indore by bus; but no evidence was furnished to support their journey.

The prosecution claimed that the bombs were transported in two suitcases, whose covers were stitched by tailor Iqbal Hussain of Kothari Market, Indore. Suitcase covers of two unexploded bombs were recovered from the crime scene. However, the NIA did not bother to conduct a Test Identification Parade (TIP) to establish if any of the accused people had got the covers stitched at the said shop. More glaringly, the report of the finger print expert was not matched with the fingerprints of the suspects or accused people to get vital clues.

The prosecution claimed that the accused people were trained in Bagli Forest area in 2006. Sand samples from the alleged site were reportedly taken in December 2012 from a pit created at the time of training. The judgement observed that it was highly improbable that any pit would remain in the same condition after more than six years, especially when the site was a hill slope; soil erosion and weather wear and tear would change the complexion of the site.

More pertinently, scientific literature states that after six months, RDX turns into Nitrite; after the explosion, RDX would turn into carbon in the shape of ash. Hence, the prosecution’s claim of finding “traces of RDX” in the alleged sand samples collected from Bagli Forest area suggests that the investigating agency “went whole hog in order to create fake evidence to ensure false implication of the accused … by any means, whether scientific or not and that, too, with a totally irrelevant piece of evidence”. Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit is accused of providing the RDX in this and other “Hindu terror” cases; this verdict may help him.

Thus, after five years of investigations and seven years of trial, the NIA failed to furnish any evidence regarding any agreement to commit the crime among the accused people. There was “no concrete oral, documentary or scientific evidence” regarding motive to indulge in the crime; nothing to show how and from where raw materials for making bombs were procured; who collected the material; who assembled the bombs; how and from where technical know-how was arranged; who planted the bombs in the train.

Above all, there is no evidence regarding the funding of this gigantic exercise. The NIA built its edifice on extracted confessions revolving around the culpability of the deceased Sunil Joshi. Little wonder the judge bemoaned the “gaping holes in the prosecution evidence”; this is a blistering indictment of the NIA.

- (The writer is Senior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library; the views expressed are personal)
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