Samjhauta Express blast case: With ‘anguish’, NIA judge says ‘dastardly act’ unpunished for want of proof
The court has also rapped the investigating agencies in general for what it called a “malaise” to “coin various terms like Muslim terrorism, Hindu fundamentalism etc or brand an act of criminal(s) as act(s) of particular religion, caste or community”.
Samjhauta Express blast case verdict: Aseemanand after being acquitted by a court in Panchkula on March 20, 2019. (Express Photo: Jaipal Singh)
Coming down heavily on the NIA, the Panchkula special court judge, who last week acquitted all four accused in the Samjhauta Express blasts case, said he was doing it “with deep pain and anguish” because a “dastardly act of violence” was going unpunished.
In a 160-page order which was released Thursday — the verdict was delivered on March 20 — special NIA court judge Jag deep Singh said the “best evidence” was “withheld” by the prosecution and was not brought on record. He said some of the cited independent witnesses were never examined or sought to be declared hostile for cross-examination when they chose not to support the prosecution case.
Naba Kumar Sarkar alias Swami Aseemanand, Kamal Chauhan, Rajinder Chaudhry and Lokesh Sharma were acquitted by the court on March 20. Sixty-eight people including 43 Pakistan citizens, 10 Indian citizens and 15 unidentified people were killed in the blasts which took place on the Atari-bound Samjhauta Express on February 18-19 night in 2007. Two explosions took place in two unreserved coaches between Diwana and Panipat in Haryana. Two bombs that did not go off were recovered later.
Three accused, Amit Chouhan (Ramesh Venkat Malhakar), Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange, have been declared proclaimed offenders. Another accused, Sunil Joshi — the NIA called him the mastermind — was killed in December 2007 in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh.
In his order, the judge said: “There are gaping holes in the prosecution evidence and an act of terrorism has remained unsolved. Terrorism has no religion because no religion in the world preaches violence. A Court of Law is not supposed to proceed on popular or predominant public perception or the political discourse of the day and ultimately it has to appreciate the evidence on record and arrive at final conclusion on the basis of relevant statutory provisions and settled law applicable thereto.”
Samjhauta Express blast case verdict: Lokesh Sharma, Rajendra Chaudhry and Kamal Chauhan at Panchkula court. (Express Photo: Jaipal Singh)
“In the present case, there is no evidence regarding any agreement to commit the crime amongst the accused persons. There is no evidence regarding any meeting of minds between the accused to commit the crime. No concrete oral, documentary or scientific evidence has been brought on record to connect the accused, facing the trial, with the crime in question. There is not an iota of evidence to make out any motive on the part of the accused to indulge in the crime,” he said.
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Observing that a large number of witnesses turned hostile in the case, the judge underlined the need for a sound and workable witness protection scheme in the country. Of 299 witnesses in the case, 224 deposed before the court. Of these, 51 were said to have turned hostile, changing statements recorded earlier.
On the alleged statement of witness Dr Ram Pratap Singh — the NIA’s sole witness to the “bomb ka badla bomb theory” at a meeting in Bhopal in 2008 where Aseemanand allegedly said “Hindus should also retaliate in the same way to the jihadis who are attacking Hindu religious places” — the order noted “even though Dr Ram Pratap Singh did not toe the line of prosecution, but neither any leave of the court was taken nor was he cross-examined by learned Special PPs for the NIA in order to contradict and confront him with his statement”. The court said the witness was “a got up witness of the prosecution” and even failed to identify the accused.
The NIA Investigating Officer had told court that there were CCTV cameras at the Old Delhi Railway Station in 2007. The judge said “this much admission on the part of investigating officers further lays bare chinks in the prosecution version, because the best evidence in the shape of CCTV footages has been withheld by the prosecution/NIA. Had CCTV footage of Old Delhi Railway Station been collected by the investigating agency and put to rigorous examination, then some vital leads might have been obtained by it in order to bring the real culprits to justice, but no such evidence has been brought on record”.
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On the NIA claim that the suitcase covers of the two unexploded bombs recovered from the blast site were made by an Indore-based tailor, the judge said it is “crystal clear” that the suitcase covers, which were recovered from the place of occurrence, were found to have been stitched by the same tailor but “for reasons best known to the investigating agency”, the evidence has not been corroborated by conducting a test identification of the accused.
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“…investigating agency, very strangely, has not even bothered to get conducted Test Identification Parade (TIP) of suspects/accused so as to arrive at concrete finding that any of the accused persons facing trial had in fact got the suitcase covers stitched at the said shop and procured for using the same in the occurrence and thus investigating agency has lost a very valuable piece of evidence by not conducting investigation properly in this regard,” the judge said.
The order noted that the NIA had claimed that call detail records of various mobile phones revealed that Sunil Joshi, the alleged mastermind, was at the Kothari market in Indore in February 2007 and call detail records of the telephones used by Pragya Thakur, Sunil Joshi, Sandeep Dange and Aseemanand showed inter-connectivity and links of suspects/co-accused during the months of February/March, 2007.
“However, again prosecution/NIA has not brought an iota of evidence on record to establish any such facts/assertions. Neither any call detail records (CDRs) of any mobile phone nor any other evidence pertaining to ownership and possession of any mobile phone by the accused/suspects has been brought on record,” the judge said.
Stating that there is no evidence on record to prove the accused had carried out recce of Delhi Railway Station and they had stayed at the dormitories there as was claimed by the NIA in the charge sheet, the NIA Court has said there is no evidence on record to even prove that the accused had travelled from Indore to Nizamuddin Railway Station. One official witness had claimed the record pertaining to dormitories was available and was not disposed of.
“This court has not got an opportunity to look into a vital piece of evidence because the entries in the handwriting of passengers might have been got compared with the handwritings/signatures of suspects, thereby further providing a vital clue about the involvement of real culprits,” the court has said, adding it has been claimed that four accused after planting the bombs escaped to Jaipur and then Indore but “again no evidence in this regard has been brought on record to make out any such escape journey of these accused … in the absence of any credible and admissible evidence, this court cannot put stamp of approval to the version put forth by the prosecution in the shape of mere allegations”.
It also has said that a “malaise” has set in the investigating agencies which coin terms like “Muslim terrorism” or “Hindu fundamentalism” and brand an act of the criminal as an act of the particular religion, caste or community.
“A criminal element, belonging to a particular religion, community or caste, cannot be projected as representative of such particular religion, community or caste and branding the entire community, caste or religion in the name of such criminal element(s) would be totally unjustified and it would be in the best interests of human kind to nip such tenancies in the bud lest we should be heading towards intense civil war or caught in a whirlpool of fratricide,” Additional Sessions Judge Jag deep Singh has said in the verdict.
The court further said it is high time that the world is made a place of peaceful existence, adding, “lest the sentiments of mutual hatred or false notions of supremacy over one other would engulf the planet”. However, it added everything is not lost while recording its appreciation for one Assistant Sub Inspector Kashmir Singh, who is said to have been busy in rescuing the passengers at the time of incident and died during the rescue operation.
“… Services of ASI Kashmir Singh (since decreased) have been exemplary, who himself took up the courage to save maximum lives trapped in the burning coaches of Samjhauta Express train and it further reflects that police personnel and armed forces personnel do not hesitate even in making the supreme sacrifices in the line of their duties and such personnel like ASI Kashmir Singh are the real heroes who deserve the highest accolades and the highest awards/rewards for their selfless services towards mankind and it is selfless services of such personnel, which keep all hopes of Utopian society afloat,” the judgment read.
The court also added, “Indian civilization, which is one of the oldest one, had survived several onslaughts throughout centuries, which testifies vibrancy of its rich heritage and culture and therefore we need to remind ourselves and the world at large the old Indian phrase expressed in ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, which aptly conveys that ‘the world is one family.”