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NIA is acting like local village cops trying to 'settle' cases, says former Maharashtra IG

Suhas Munshi | Updated on: 18 May 2016, 17:49 IST

The phenomenon of Hindu terror was first investigated and discovered by Hemant Karkare. His bravery -- in challenging terrorists during the Mumbai 26/11 attacks in which he lost his life -- and his investigating skills have been well established. He was even praised by former R&AW chief AS Dulat for providing vital intel during the IC 814 plane hijack

Read: Is NIA taking the easy way out in Malegaon?

When Karkare began investigating the 2008 Malegaon blasts, in which six people lost their lives, he discovered an organisation - Abhinav Bharat - that was allegedly behind nine blasts in India between 2006-07 which had killed 449 people. It was because of investigations led by Karkare that 14 members of Abhinav Bharat, including Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and Col Purohit, were put behind bars in connection with the Malegaon blast case.

Now the NIA, which was tasked with investigating Malegaon afresh in 2011, seems to have watered down cases against the six accused, including Sadhvi Pragya and Col Purohit.

In their supplementary chargesheet, the NIA has claimed that there was only one material evidence against Pragya - that the motorcycle used in the blast was hers. But the NIA argued that the motorcycle was in her name but was being used by Ramchandra Kalsangra.

In Purohit's case it has argued that evidence against him was planted by the ATS, then headed by Karkare. It has dropped MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act) charges against both these accused.

Amidst all this, seven witness statements recorded in the presence of a magistrate and hence admissible as evidence, are reported to be missing from the NIA court in Mumbai.

More significantly the NIA has described Karkare's probe as 'dubious' and has all but junked the ATS investigation.

At a time when Karkare isn't around to defend himself, former IG of Maharashtra, SM Mushrif, who's credited with cracking the Telgi scam, spoke to Catch about his impressions of NIA's investigation in the Malegaon blast case.

Also read: Achhe Din for Malegaon accused: Clean chit to Pragya, MCOCA dropped against rest

Mushrif is also known to have questioned the circumstances in which Hemant Kakare lost his life, in his book Who killed Karkare? Based on this book, a plea to have Karkare's murder reinvestigated is being heard in the Bombay High Court.

In this interview Mushrif talks about Malegaon, Hindu terror cases, fallacies in NIA's supplementary chargesheet and about Karkare himself.

***

Could you tell us a bit about Hemant Karkare who was once your junior in the force. Also, a bit about how Karkare cracked the cases of Hindu terror?

Yes, I've worked with him and I found him to be very honest and a thorough professional. He was the one to blow the lid off the Abhinav Bharat cases and the phenomenon of Hindu terror. When Karkare was investigating the Malegaon blasts, he got hold of Col Purohit. When he subjected Purohit to narco tests, Purohit admitted to orchestrating and executing the blasts.

The chargesheet filed by the ATS and NIA are starkly different & the court needs to decide which one to admit

Little by little, he dug deeper and found out about Ajmer Sharif, Mecca Masjid and all the other cases in which Abhinav Bharat was involved. From the laptops recovered from Purohit and Dayanand, he found details about the training camps they had set up, their cache of explosives and long range weapons, and arms training they were planning on giving to their recruits.

Even three years after his death nobody followed up on his investigations. Eventually his investigations were found to be credible, and now we're seeing his work being junked.

NIA is arguably India's most credible investigating agency with a conviction rate of 95%, the highest in the country. Do you find logic in the argument that this agency is suddenly succumbing to political pressure?

There is definitely some pressure. The strongest evidence of this is the fact that in the supplementary chargesheet filed by NIA, Sadhvi Pragya has not been named.

This is despite the strong evidence found against her by Karkare and his team. The motorcycle used in Malegaon [2008] was hers. There are recorded clips of meetings of Abhinav Bharat that were held in Bhopal and Indore in which Pragya was present.

I think the NIA was fair to begin with. It had good credibility. But over time all their top officers were changed. These officers are close to the IB, which is inherently communal. This is the same organisation that knew all about 26/11 five days in advance but chose not to inform the Mumbai police about it.

Read more- Malegaon: NIA's shifting stand on the Muslim accused erodes its credibility

The NIA didn't even do basic, perfunctory investigation. Not just in Malegaon 2006, but in cases of blasts in Ajmer, Samjhauta Express and Mecca Masjid, the NIA ignored the trail of RDX. Had they tried to find the source of explosives used in these blasts, they would have built up a foolproof case.

Part of the evidence submitted by Karkare to the court were transcripts of telephonic conversation of Sadhvi Pragya after the blast, in which she is heard to be asking why only six people died.

In case of Pragya, to reduce severity of her involvement they [NIA] took some statement by mechanics who said that repairs on the motorcycle weren't done by Pragya but by a man, which they used as evidence to show that Pragya wasn't using the motorcycle at the time of the blast.

A huge cache of evidence - 23 audio and 23 video recordings of meetings held by Abhinav Bharat members - was recovered from the laptops seized from Col Purohit and Swami Dayanand. These files included recordings of a meeting held in Bhopal in June 2008 in which Purohit promised to arrange RDX while Pragya took on the responsibility of providing manpower.

A similar meeting was also held in Indore. But the NIA hasn't bothered with all this evidence.

Chargesheets filed by the ATS under Karkare and by NIA are starkly different. Based on ATS' chargesheet Pragya could be severely punished for being part of a group that waged war against India. On the other hand, if the court considers the chargesheet filed by the NIA, it could let Pragya get away. How do you see the objections raised by NIA on investigations carried out by ATS?

It is up to the court now. It has to decide which chargesheet to consider, ATS' or NIA's.

I think objections raised by NIA about investigations done by the Maharashtra ATS under Karkare itself, need to be looked into. Let's look at NIA's charge for instance, that ATS planted RDX in the house of an accused.

There is so much evidence against Col Purohit, that it simply cannot be ignored even if one wants to

The charge is that an ATS officer, sub-inspector Shekhar Bagde, left RDX in the house of an accused, retired Army officer Sudhakar Chaturvedi, in Deolali. The NIA discovered it based on an internal investigation done by the Army. They didn't even question these people themselves before making the allegation.

The NIA is behaving like the local village cops who look at their own interests and try and 'settle' cases.

But NIA hasn't let Col Purohit completely off the hook...

There is so much evidence against him, it simply cannot be ignored even if one wants to. They have a transcript of an Abhinav Bharat meeting in Faridabad, in which Purohit says that his organisation is working to break down the government and set up a new government in exile, based on the Vedas and Manusmriti.

The charge here is of high treason, of waging war against the state. How can they ignore this? If they had the slightest chance to do it they would have, but now they cannot.

Edited by Anna Verghese

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First published: 18 May 2016, 17:49 IST
 
Suhas Munshi @suhasmunshi

He hasn't been to journalism school, as evident by his refusal to end articles with 'ENDS' or 'EOM'. Principal correspondent at Catch, Suhas studied engineering and wrote code for a living before moving to writing mystery-shrouded-pall-of-gloom crime stories. On being accepted as an intern at Livemint in 2010, he etched PRESS onto his scooter. Some more bylines followed in Hindustan Times, Times of India and Mail Today.

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