New Delhi: A recent report by human rights group People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) has raised a series of questions on the role of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the 2007 Samjhauta blast case. Tilted ‘A Compromised Investigation’, PUDR in its report has accused the NIA of carrying out ‘a biased investigation’ and turning a blind eye to ‘Hindu’ Terror.
“A biased investigation is visible in the lack of safety for witnesses leading to a large number turning hostile, the absence of key evidence linking the accused to the crime, NIA’s unexplained rush to file chargesheets, and the crucial loss of time as investigating agencies turned a blind eye to Hindu terror outfits in the initial years after the blast,” the human rights group said in its note circulated with the report.
According to Radhika Chitkara, one of the PUDR researchers who worked on the report, there was ‘unexplained rush to frame charges and file chargesheets’ in the case. “Turning a blind eye to the possibility of ‘Hindu’ Terror, mishandling of investigations and evidence are other important aspects of the case as indicated in the judgement,” she told The Wire.
In March 2019, a NIA special court in Panchkula (Haryana) acquitted all the accused of the Samjhauta blast case. In the blast, 67 were killed and 13 passengers were injured – mostly Pakistani citizens. The accused included Swami Aseemanand, Ramchandra Kalsangra, Sandeep Dange, Lokesh Sharma, Kamal Chouhan, Rajendra Chaudhary and Amit Hakla, all allegedly associated with different Hindutva terror groups.
Based on the special court judgement, the report says that there are several unanswered questions about the NIA’s role and conduct in the investigation of the case. It also notes that “the Special Court indicted the NIA for shoddy investigations that led to the eventual acquittal of all accused brought to trial” and “the NIA’s role and conduct from the beginning raises many questions that still remain unresolved.”
Notably, while acquitting the accused the NIA court had noted int its judgment that “with deep pain and anguish [that] a dastardly act of violence remained unpunished for want of credible and admissible evidence. There are gaping holes in the prosecution evidence and an act of terrorism has remained unsolved.”
According to the report, call records of the key accused such as Pragya Thakur, Sunil Joshi, Sandeep Dange and Aseemanand showed inter-connectivity and links between them during the months of February and March 2007, during the last leg of the planning for Samjhauta blast was underway. However, the NIA failed to produce call detail records (CDRs) of any mobile phone nor any other evidence pertaining to ownership and possession of any mobile phone or SIM cards by the accused.
Speaking to The Wire in June 2016, Vikash Narain Rai, a former Haryana police officer who headed the Special Investigation Team (SIT) from 2007 to early 2010, said that the police recovered an unexploded bomb from the train. Over the course of investigations, it was found that all the parts of that ‘incendiary device’ were purchased by people linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and associated groups. Rai had also said that the trail of evidence took the team to Indore, where RSS member Sunil Joshi and his two accomplices were found to be complicit in the crime. Before they could interrogate Joshi, he was murdered.
It can be noted that this is not the first time the NIA’s functioning has been questioned. In 2015, the former public prosecutor in the Malegaon blasts case, Rohini Salian had accused the NIA of pressuring her to “go soft on the Hindutva extremists”. Similarly, in April 2016, some retired bureaucrats also alleged that then NIA chief Sharad Kumar’s tenure was extended to divert attention from the role of Hindutva extremists in a series of explosions between 2006 to 2008.
Criticising recent amendments in the NIA act by the government despite the strong opposition, PUDR said, “In the light of increasing political pressures coupled with political considerations affecting the decision making and exercise of the discretion by the NIA, aiding and expanding the investigative powers and jurisdiction of the already fallible, unprofessional and legally inept institution will further the abuse of constitutionally guaranteed rights of the citizens by the premier investigative body of the country.”
Moreover, as per PUDR, it will facilitate selective and targeted criminalisation of activities and consequently, prosecution of individuals and groups, such as minorities, Adivasis and other weaker sections of the society.