Strange twists in UP's Gunpowder Plot, Agra lab says explosive found wasn't PETN
A case of whodunit is petering out into much ado about nothing.
The mystery of the white powder found in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly became more intriguing after the Agra Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) said that it was not PETN, or Pentaerythritol tetranitrate, as the Yogi Adityanath government had claimed.
The government's denial of the test result came promptly – considering Adityanath made an announcement claiming it was PETN two days after the powder was found.
In fact, the government claims to not have sent a sample to the laboratory in Agra at all. According to the state's principal secretary (Home) Arvind Kumar, FSL is not equipped to carry out the vital infrared spectrum and gas chromatography tests.
He stated that these tests were being carried out by the Lucknow FSL, and that the initial findings confirmed that the powder is PETN. Kumar said that the result of the two confirmatory tests would be available by 20 July.
But contradicting Arvind Kumar's assertion, former IPS officer SR Darapuri has said that the lab at Agra is the best in the state for testing explosives.
Now, the Special Task Force (ATS) is attempting to unravel the mystery. The National Investigation Agency, which the CM said would be involved in the probe, given the serious nature of the case, is yet to join the investigation.
Losing the plot
About 150 grams of the suspected PETN was found under the cushion of the chair occupied by Samajwadi Party MLA Manoj Pandey on 12 July.
The biggest problem with the statement that the CM made is that preliminary findings in such cases are not tenable in a court of law.
The Opposition has taken the opportunity to criticise the government, saying that instead of creating panic, the government should have waited for the final report from the lab in Lucknow.
After the news of Agra laboratory report went viral and the government denied having sent the sample to that lab, Inspector General of Police, ATS, Aseem Arun, stated that the preliminary report on the presence of PETN in the sample was positive.
Since the NIA is mulling taking over the investigation, the sample was not sent to any other lab. Arun said the sample would be sent for re-examination in case NIA delayed taking over the case.
But his statement makes it clear that both the police and and the ATS are unaware as to what sample the Lucknow FSL used.
Unconfirmed reports said that the batch number of sample sent to Agra was 4870 Ex-2017 and a five-member committee was constituted at the FSL to test the substance.
The plot thickens
Some Opposition leaders said the powder could have been planted to implicate some of them. In fact, Pandey and SP MLA Anil Dohre were among several quizzed by the ATS.
The Congress has demanded a judicial inquiry into the recovery of the PETN to clear the air.
To add to the government's embarrassment, it was reported that 94 out of the 100 CCTV cameras installed on the Vidhan Bhawan premises are non-functional. The finding puts a question mark on the Secretariat administration's seriousness towards the maintenance of security.
As a consequence, the available footage did not reveal anything suspicious.
The Vidhan Bhawan complex has three-layered security, starting with the secretariat security force, but little is known about the recruitment process for this force. The CM has called for a background check on all the security personnel, but he did not say anything about the recruitment process. The second ring is that of UP Police, while marshals are responsible for the security of the House.
Legislators, marshals and sweepers are the only ones who are allowed access to the House precincts.
But for MLAs, there is no frisking or full body scans, as they find any security check insulting to their “maananeeya” (honourable) status. This is despite the fact that scores of them have criminal backgrounds.
A few mysteries still remain: who took the powder inside the house? What sample did the Lucknow lab receive and from whom? How did the Agra FSL get its hands on a sample? Why is the security apparatus in such disrepair?
And finally, is this Uttar Pradesh's tribute to the Gunpowder Plot?