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Is NIA taking the easy way out in Malegaon?

Catch Team | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:50 IST

The accusation

  • On 13 May, the NIA submitted a report, dropping Sadhvi Pragya and five others from the list of Malegaon blasts accused
  • It has blamed the Maharashtra ATS probe, conducted under late chief Hemant Karkare, as full of lacunae

The switch

  • The NIA has also switched the case from MCOCA to UAPA
  • While both laws are draconian, UAPA would discount witness testimonies and confessions of the accused

More in the story

  • NIA claims the RDX recovered from an accused was \'planted\'. Who planted it?
  • Is the NIA as independent an agency as it claims to be?

It is always convenient to blame the dead, for they can't rise to defend their actions. That's what's happening in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case, in which the National Investigation Agency has given a clean chit to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, who was named as the prime accused in the Maharashtra Anti-terrorism Squad (ATS) probe, conducted by the late Hemant Karkare.

Calling Karkare's investigation 'dubious' and the recoveries made as 'doubtful and tainted', the NIA has blamed Karkare, who can no longer speak for himself.

On Friday, 13 May, the NIA submitted a second supplementary report on the case to an NIA Special Court, and dropped Thakur and five others from the list of accused. The agency claimed that the investigation by the ATS was full of 'lacunae'.

Amidst these revelations, the investigation is being perceived as a NIA vs ATS battle, and since Karkare is dead, the NIA is being portrayed as a sacrosanct organisation that can do no wrong.

No 'caged parrot'?

Arguments being floated to defend the agency include its conviction rate of 95%, and that nine Muslims accused in the Malegaon blasts were eventually released.

Claims are being made that the NIA is no 'caged parrot', and enjoys immunity from political duress.

It is significant that the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) has been dropped from the case, which is now to be tried under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). In order to defend the agency, the UAPA is being called 'as stringent' as the MCOCA.

The case is to be tried under UAPA, not MCOCA, which will discount confessions and testimonies

A senior lawyer based in Mumbai agrees that the two laws are equally draconian, but says that to reject key confessional statements as evidence can lead to a dilution of the case.

"The switch of acts will mean that the alleged confessional statements of the accused and testimonies of witnesses before the police would no longer be counted as evidence. This could be a ploy to derail the entire investigation process," he said.

The lawyer added that though it is for the special court to decide whether it accepts the NIA's report or not, there are several unanswered questions that the investigating agency needs to answer.

Aseemanand's testimony

First, there is no mention of Aseemanand's statement, which he recorded under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code before Metropolitan Magistrate Deepak Dabas at Tis Hazari courts on 18 December. In his statement, the arrested Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader confessed his involvement and that of other Hindu activists in bombing Muslim religious places.

Aseemanand also confessed to holding a meeting in 2006 with Hindu radicals, including RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi and Sadhvi Pragya, where he propagated the policy of 'bomb for bomb' to counter Islamist terror.

Joshi was later shot dead under mysterious circumstances in 2006, which many believe was done to cover the tracks of others involved. Aseemanand, in his statement, has repeatedly mentioned meeting Pragya on several occasions

Moreover, in his confession, Aseemanand claims that after the 2006 Varanasi bombing that killed 28 people and injured a hundred, Joshi and Pragya met him and were accompanied by four new recruits - Sandeep Dange, Ramchandra Kalsangra, Lokesh Sharma and one Amit.

In its report, the ATS had accused Pragya of attending meetings of Abhinav Bharat - a right-wing organisation involved in eight terror attacks from 2006-08. She was described as one of the key players, who asked Lt Col Prasad Purohit to provide explosives to Kalsangre and Dange, to carry out blasts in Malegaon.

The NIA claims that the RDX recovered from another accused was planted by the ATS, under Karkare

In yet another revelation, the NIA claims that the RDX recovered from the Deolali house of another accused, retired Army personnel Sudhakar Chaturvedi, was planted by the ATS, which was then under Karkare. The NIA claims that the ATS planted RDX to implicate Purohit.

In its chargesheet, the NIA claims that an Assistant Police Inspector of the ATS was seen in Chaturvedi's house two days before the ATS conducted a raid and found traces of RDX, that were similar to that used in the Malegaon blasts.

According to the NIA, an Army major and a subedar claimed that the ATS officer broke into Chaturvedi's house to allegedly deposit traces of RDX.

"When I entered the room, I saw API Shri Bagade was alone and doing something. On seeing me, he immediately came out and pleaded to me that I should not inform about the incident to anyone," one of the armymen was quoted as saying.

Dismissing charges of Purohit keeping a part of a haul of RDX that he recovered from J&K, the NIA claimed that 70 kg of explosives were accounted for.

Interestingly, the NIA has maintained a stoic silence on the role of the ATS officer, it has ensured that the charge on Purohit for taking the RDX for terrorist activities is ruled out.

Handmaiden of the Centre?

For those claiming that the agency is not the handmaiden of the Central government, there is enough evidence to suggest otherwise.

Whether it was public prosecutor Rohini Salian's statement that the Modi government had asked her to go 'soft' against the accused, or an extraordinary extension to NIA chief Sharad Kumar, it seems that the ruling party did have a say in the Malegaon case.

Moreover, the accusation of detaining nine Muslim men for way longer then they should have raises suspicions on the role of the NIA under Kumar.

Prosecutor Rohini Salian had said that the Modi govt had asked her to go soft against the accused

Two years ago, the NIA told the court that it had no evidence against these nine individuals, and yet, the agency was reluctant to let them go. Finally these men were released on 25 April, after spending five years in jail.

Those opposed to Kumar claim that at the behest of his political masters, the NIA chief is trying to build an untenable case against these men, in order to help the real perpetrators.

It seems the Malegaon probe could have reached its logical conclusion only if Karkare was alive. Questions were even raised about how he died, and whether it was the handiwork of those who wanted to thwart the investigations against the Hindu hardliners allegedly involved in carrying out terrorist activities.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

First published: 15 May 2016, 10:50 IST