‘I Know My Responsibility, I Can Prove What I Have Said About the NIA’

Here is the transcript of the interview Rohini Salian, the Mumbai special prosecutor retained by the National Investigation Agency to handle the Malegaon 2008 bomb blast case involving Hindutva extremists, gave Sreenivasan Jain of NDTV on her allegation that the NIA asked her to go “soft” on the accused. The interview was telecast on June 29, 2015.

rohini salianSreenivasan Jain: Hello and welcome to this NDTV exclusive. The Malegaon blast case of 2008  has been at the centre of a controversy ever since the anti-terror squad in Maharashtra probing it alleged that it was Hindutva extremists behind the blast. Now, even after the NIA has taken over the case, a fresh controversy has surrounded this particular investigation, with allegations being made by none other than a special prosecutor handling the case, Rohini Salian, that she has been asked to go soft on the case since there has been a change of regime. The NIA forces rebutted this but lets get Rohini Salian to respond to all these questions in what is her first exclusive television interview, here in her chambers in Mumbai. Thank you very much indeed ma’am for joining us.

Rohini Salian: Thank you

Sreenivasan Jain: Now you said in your first interview that you were asked to go soft in this particular case by someone in the NIA. The NIA has subsequently come out and said that they have checked and no such officer has given you such instructions. But you still stand by this?

Rohini Salian: Yes, I still stand by it. I swear by it.

Sreenivasan Jain: You swear by it?

Rohini Salian: Yes.

Sreenivasan Jain: You swear by what exactly?

Rohini Salian:  What I have said.

Sreenivasan Jain: Yes, but just for the record if you could repeat it. What exactly happened?

Rohini Salian: Yes, somebody has come to me and told me to go soft.

Sreenivasan Jain: And this person was who?

Rohini Salian: From NIA

Sreenivasan Jain: A member of the NIA?

Rohini Salian: Yes.

Sreenivasan Jain: And when did this happen exactly?

Rohini Salian: Initially it happened somewhere in between May and June last year.

Sreenivasan Jain:  Between May and June last year?

Rohini Salian: Yes.

Sreenivasan Jain: So this is somewhere last year, after the government changed in new Delhi.?

Rohini Salian:  Yes

Sreenivasan Jain: I see, and what did this gentlemen say to you exactly? I mean did he say just to go soft or did he elaborate? Who has given him these instructions?

Rohini Salian: No, he has not elaborated. He only called me first, that he wanted to meet me. Then I called him. He came to our court and in the court itself, in the corridor he told me about it..

Sreenivasan Jain:  And he said that…?

Rohini Salian: He said that it is instruction from up. I don’t know who is that.

Sreenivasan Jain: Instruction from above…?

Rohini Salian:  Yes

Sreenivasan Jain: But he didn’t clarify what he meant by doing so

Rohini Salian: No

Sreenivasan Jain: And who is this gentlemen in the NIA who told you this?

Rohini Salian: I don’t want to name him.

Sreenivasan Jain: But if it comes to it, will you be able to prove it?

Rohini Salian: Yes

Sreenivasan Jain: You will be able to prove it.?

Rohini Salian: Yes

Sreenivasan Jain: And how will you be able to prove the fact that this incident took place?

Rohini Salian: At this stage I don’t want to reveal it.

Sreenivasan Jain: Okay. I am only asking you this because the matter could escalate in the court.

Rohini Salian: Yes I understand

Sreenivasan Jain: With the NIA contesting it

Rohini Salian: I know my responsibility. That I am accountable to public.

Sreenivasan Jain: Now tell me, the NIA has also said that this case is not even reached the trial stage yet, so where is the question of going soft? To that what would say?

Rohini Salian: So I have been arguing this matter during the ATS also, right from day one, all bail applications, all miscellaneous applications, and all applications, I have been drafting the replies as well as arguing the matter. Right from beginning, even after NIA took over, I was asked in writing to continue. So where is the question of beginning trial? Because all issues are very important at this stage also, it is the question of retaining MCOCA and allowing them to go on bail.

Sreenivasan Jain: So even now there are very important aspects of the case which have to be determined like whether or not the Maharashtra Organized Crime Act will apply to this particular case, whether the accused will go on bail

Rohini Salian: Correct

Sreenivasan Jain: So one can’t say that this is some unimportant time

Rohini Salian: No. This is the most crucial time, I would say.

Sreenivasan Jain: But you are saying, and this is again something which is very significant, you are saying that that this whole shift has happened, you said, after the new government took charge. You sensed some sort of change in mood. What exactly has changed, and one thing I want to ask you, why are you bringing this up now? That is what people are asking.

Rohini Salian: Correct. Because at that stage I felt.. it’s not my.. I should say something about it unless I have enough proof.  So it may be an instruction. One doesn’t know. But ‘soft’ – I don’t know what exactly is the meaning of ‘soft’. Because by then I argued all the matters, all the matters were pending in the Supreme Court. So there was no question of arguing also.

Sreenivasan Jain: So what triggered it? What exactly then provoked you to go public? You were waiting for evidence?

Rohini Salian: Yes. Finally the matter was decided in the Supreme Court. All the issues were pending and it has come back now. Now it’s the time to go in to trial, exactly leading evidence and all.

Sreenivasan Jain: This is the most important time?

Rohini Salian: Yes. And the direction of the honorable Supreme Court is go for a special court, special judge, every direction is there. So that means the trial will commence soon. So at this stage, there is somebody coming and saying that now your service are not required, it’s very clear.. at this stage I felt something very very serious is going on. So I felt I should tell this to the general public.

Sreenivasan Jain: I see, this is when you are referring to the fact that someone came to you and said that now the NIA no longer need your services?

Rohini Salian: Correct.

Sreenivasan Jain: This happened when? In this month itself ?

Rohini Salian: In June.

Sreenivasan Jain: In June, the current month.

Rohini Salian: Because 2 days earlier to the regular date, I was approached by the same officer and he said, this is instruction from up, so somebody else will appear in  this matter. I said okay, there is no problem. In fact I told him, ” I expected this, good you have told me earlier.”

Sreenivasan Jain: Did he give any explanation? Why you have being removed?

 Rohini Salian:  No. I did ask him whether there is something in writing. He said ‘No’. Then I said, I don’t mind. I will not appear henceforth in any of the matters which were pending also. Like I had appeared in one matter for….

Sreenivasan Jain: You wanted to get out of all NIA matters. But the NIA is saying that basically they are reviewing the performance of all their Special Public Prosecutors on a 5 yearly basis, you must have seen that statement?

Rohini Salian: Yes.

Sreenivasan Jain: And on the basis of that the Mumbai branch felt that it was time for you to be replaced by somebody else. So that could well be the reason, what do you have say to that?

Rohini Salian:  Yes. Because the notification which was issued in 2009 is a general notification, saying that I am the Special Public Prosecutor for NIA in whole of Maharashtra. There was no mention of years or anything, or 5 years.

Sreenivasan Jain: So there was no time bar that was put?

Rohini Salian: No, time bar was not there. Assuming that they have a time bar of their own, there is no problem in appointing someone else. But till today I have not got any intimation of any sort from them.

Sreenivasan Jain: You have got no formal intimation so far?

Rohini Salian: No, no, no

Sreenivasan Jain: So you are rejecting this argument that there is some 5 yearly performance analysis on the basis of which this thing is done.

Rohini Salian: Yes, performance wise everyone knows that whichever matter I have appeared, they have got good, favourable orders.

Sreenivasan Jain: So then why do you think they want to remove you? What is the motive here? When you said something very serious is going on…what is that?

Rohini Salian: Each and every person can read between the lines.

Sreenivasan Jain: But sometimes people find it difficult. What exactly is your reading of what’s going on here?

Rohini Salian:  I felt that my service were no longer wanted because earlier also they have told me that I should go soft. Maybe it has culminated in to final… you know, taking me out of it.

Sreenivasan Jain: Explain this in a little more detail, because this matter was something which is involving these people who have been accused by the ATS of being Hindutva extremists, who are responsible for carrying out this bomb blast. You are saying that even though the trial has not started, the matter is still at a sensitive stage because it even went to the Supreme Court where these people argued that they should be given bail because putting the Organised Crime Act against them was not valid. The  Supreme Court actually ruled in their favour, one could say. It said that ‘Yes, I think that there is some merit in this, whether MCOCA applies or not.’ So this is still a very important stage. Now did you feel that there was a shift of attitude even at the Supreme  Court level?

Rohini Salian: Yes.

Sreenivasan Jain: What happened there?

Rohini Salian:  In fact, state of Maharashtra had engaged a senior council  to represent state of Maharashtra because the issue is of  MCOCA, that is Maharashtra Organised Crime Act. It is a very important act for the state. So we want to retain it. It was earlier a constitution validity of this act  was confirmed by the honorable Supreme Court. So here is a case where we have applied it. So we have to protect our state laws. So I always used to go to Supreme Court on behalf of state of Maharashtra,  not on behalf of NIA, as my notification under NIA for Supreme Court is not there. It’s only there for trial court and high court.

Sreenivasan Jain: So when you went to the Supreme Court, what happened?

Rohini Salian: Last I went to the Supreme Court the matter finally reached for arguments. So the final day… I should say 1 day earlier, Mr. Mariar Puttam called and told me that …

Sreenivasan Jain: Mr. Mariar Puttam is the gentleman…

Rohini Salian: He is a gentleman, the senior council of Supreme Court.

Sreenivasan Jain:  …who is appearing on behalf of ?

Rohini Salian: …he is appearing on the behalf of state of Maharashtra. So he was sent a feeler that he should not appear for NIA as he had agreed to appear for them also on their request.

Sreenivasan Jain: Sent a feeler by whom?

Rohini Salian:  By somebody. ..

Sreenivasan Jain: In the NIA or… ?

Rohini Salian:  From NIA..

Sreenivasan Jain: Okay, then what happens?

Rohini Salian:  Then they said their own Additional Solicitor General will appear. That is what was told. But he was earlier, from the day 1,  he was appearing for the state of Maharashtra. So in the midst of these arguments the defense lawyers faced  some meeting. Somebody else appeared on behalf of state of Maharashtra and that…

Sreenivasan Jain: Who was that?

Rohini Salian: One Mr. Anil Singh, is supposed to be Additional Solicitor General for centre and he made a statement that he is appearing for the state of Maharashtra.

Sreenivasan Jain: Even though he has never …?

Rohini Salian: No he was never in the picture. Suddenly he appeared and when there is a senior council who has been asked to appear for the state of Maharashtra and we were not informed about it by the state of Maharashtra.

Sreenivasan Jain: And was this Mr. Singh conversant with the case? Was he able to argue the case?

Rohini Salian:  Not at all. He has not even called me as a Special Public Prosecutor. Normally senior council calls before for taking the fcats. So whatever it is, finally he appeared on the behalf of the state of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court judge allowed him and the next day Mariar Puttam was to argue. So next day when Mr. Mariar Puttam got up to argue, from the other side Mr. Tushar Mehta, the Additional Solicitor  General of India, he opposed that he, Mr. Mariar Puttam, should not appear on behalf of NIA. So Mr. Mariar Puttam told the court that yes, he had an instruction that he will not appear on behalf of NIA as their own council

Sreenivasan Jain: Does Mr. Mehta give any explanation why he was…?

Rohini Salian:…No, nothing …

Sreenivasan Jain: …for not allowing Mr. Mariar Puttam…?

Rohini Salian: No, nothing. And in the meantime he said, I will be appearing on behalf of the state of Maharashtra in addition to Mr. Anil Singh. I’ll put forth all the facts. So suddenly Mr. Anil Singh gets up and says, ‘no you can’t argue. I have already argued for the state of Maharashtra.’

Sreenivasan Jain: So he cut Mr. Mariar Puttam off?

Rohini Salian: Yes. At that stage Mr. Mariar Puttam felt, I could see, visibly upset. He told the lordships that if that is the case let him be allowed to go out of the court. So when the division bench sat, the lordships said they would like to hear him. So then he argued and concluded by giving his submissions in writing.

Sreenivasan Jain: So even at the Supreme Court, you are saying, that you saw that there was an attempt to try and prevent this gentleman who knew most about this case from speaking, by others?

Rohini Salian: Yes

Sreenivasan Jain: What did that result in?

Rohini Salian:  Finally the matter, the order was reserved and it was pronounced later on. So now the order is before us, so I don’t want to comment on that. Whatever directions the honorable Supreme Court has given…

Sreenivasan Jain: Not to comment on the merits of the order but to summarise the order for the ordinary person

Rohini Salian: What I understand is, the honorable court has said, directed the state government in the High Court of .. consultants of the High Court Chief Justice that they should constitute a separate court for NIA exclusively for trying this matter and in addition for some judges of NIA should also be appointed and expeditiously this trial should be concluded.

Sreenivasan Jain: No but again, to try and simplify this even further. The 2-3 of the main accused who were brought to court, Colnel Purohit, Pragya Thakur, they have seen this order as something in their favour. The Supreme Court has broadly accepted their contention that it is not clear, that there is not enough evidence of MCOCA against them and that their bail application could be considered. Do you believe that this set back to the case…

Rohini Salian: It is not a set back. I will elaborate because they have challenged the order of the honorable High Court restoring the charges of MCOCA . And MCOCA was diluted because of some fault according to the trial judge of taking cognizance by the two magistrates. So that issue was dealt by the Supreme Court. And they upheld the order of the honorable High Court.

Sreenivasan Jain: Okay, so you are saying this is on a technicality, not a set back, but do you feel that this intervention that has happened in the Supreme Court, that this was something which was detrimental to your case? This interference with Mr. Mariar Puttam…

Rohini Salian: To certain extent yes

Sreenivasan Jain:  In what way?

Rohini Salian: It was…ultimately we had to go abruptly, you know, close it. That is one thing. It was not our satisfaction sort of, you know, we wanted to you know in fact deliver for the honorable court.

Sreenivasan Jain: Do you feel that the NIA has made any significant progress in this case at all?

Rohini Salian:  No, in 2009 the charge sheet was filed by the ATS, after 12 person were arrested and the charge sheet is intact also and in 2011 NIA took over and they investigated further. But so far not even a single page is filed before the honorable trial court.

Sreenivasan Jain: There is not a single new piece of evidence, you are saying, which the NIA has brought before the trial court?

Rohini Salian:  No.

Sreenivasan Jain: So  this is a problem which actually predates what you were saying, that you have seen a shift, you said since the government changed? But this seems to be a problem that even predates this? That the NIA is not doing enough?

Rohini Salian:  I can’t comment on it, because why is was not brought before the court. I can’t comment on it because I don’t know the real reason. So I was never interfering with that, because as a public prosecutor I should keep away from interfering with the investigation

Sreenivasan Jain: But you are saying, just to summarise, that as far as the shift that you noticed since the government changed, one is this instruction to you to go soft, then you find this entire business happens with  Mr. Mariar Puttam in the Supreme Court?

Rohini Salian: Yes

Sreenivasan Jain: Did anything else change in your relationship with the NIA after the change of regime?

Rohini Salian:  In fact they have stopped communicating with me. Except whenever the matter is there on board in the trial court, the Investigating Officer used to call me ..

Sreenivasan Jain: When did they stop this communication?

Rohini Salian: It was there up to the last 12th that was the last, one day earlier I was stopped from it. Otherwise I used to draft all the replies. I used to send it to the Bombay office and it used to be sent to the daily office. They will approve it…

Sreenivasan Jain: But you said this communication was finally stopped

Rohini Salian: Yes. But I never communicated with any officer other than the IO.

Sreenivasan Jain: But you are saying that communication started coming to a halt?

Rohini Salian: Yes. Earlier they used to discuss with me. So I thought there won’t be much to discuss, but ultimately one can read between the lines.

Sreenivasan Jain: And was there any other change in response vis-a-vis the submissions you used to give? Was there any change of attitude in terms to how they reacted to it?

Rohini Salian:  Yes, I noticed it initially. My submissions, because it is a very huge matter, so I put up all the evidence which is available against each of the accused in writing as reply. So I used to get a reply that I should cut short the reply. I always used to say that if I cut short the reply the whole story will not be depicted properly.

Sreenivasan Jain: And this is also a new thing?

Rohini Salian: Yes, this is also a new thing. I was wondering because I myself also has to stand up and argue, I may lose track of certain things which are very important,  to hold to the court. So that sort of changes were made a number of times in replies.

Sreenivasan Jain: But you know one important thing in this that the NIA is saying that the trial has not started so far for this case at all even though it’s now being almost 7 years since the bomb blast and almost a same time since all these people have been in jail…

Rohini Salian: Correct.

Sreenivasan Jain: Is it the case that their evidence that has been produced is weak? Or is it that the case has not been investigated and argued in the manner in which it should be.?

Rohini Salian:  See prima facie, the evidence is very good in this charge sheet which is filed by the ATS. Rest is history. Nothing has been brought on the record.

Sreenivasan Jain: But the evidence, in your view, is extremely strong?

Rohini Salian: Yes. one doesn’t know how it will be formulated during the trial. We don’t know. It is subject to so many malpractices.

Sreenivasan Jain: Which you are listing to us. Last question to you is that you have now taken the position that you said you are happy to leave the service of the NIA and now you are saying that you are now willing to go against them. You mean that?

Rohini Salian:  Yes, I did make that statement because I am an advocate first, then a Special Public Prosecutor or a Prosecutor. My duty is to appear and represent the court to bring the justice before the court. I am not anybody’s puppet. I can’t take orders from state also unless there is substance in it and even if I appear for the accused I will not  take any instruction, illegal instruction from him.

Sreenivasan Jain: Okay, you are saying that you are not willing to just be pushed around…

Rohini Salian: No

Sreenivasan Jain: And you are saying all of this is not coming out of the fact that you are disgruntled, that the NIA is given you marching orders and that’s why you are reacting  like this?

Rohini Salian: No. This is…as an advocate I have the freedom to appear for both the sides, but where I have booked for certain state I should not appear against them in those matters where I have appeared in their favour.

Sreenivasan Jain: So again, just to say, this is coming out of that, not out of the fact the NIA said they no longer need your services?

Rohini Salian: No.

Sreenivasan Jain: …So feeling upset about this, you come out against NIA?

Rohini Salian: No, not at all. Now I have been with the state of Maharashtra since ages now. But I have never come across such a unwanted, you know, pressure. And my habit is that I should be…they should have faith in me and not only that they should give me free hand to conduct a trial and to represent properly, legally, and for justice, for the cause of justice. And I am appearing for the public and public only.

Sreenivasan Jain: Okay. Miss Salian thank you very much indeed for talking to us ..

Rohini Salian:  Thank you very much.