TEN YEARS after nine Muslim men were arrested for the 2006 Malegaon blasts, and two years after the National Investigation Agency (NIA) told the court that it had no evidence against them, a sessions court Monday discharged them of all terror charges in the case.
Sessions Judge V V Patil declared that the eight men be “set at liberty” — the ninth accused, Shabbir Ahmed, died in an accident early last year — noting that there was not sufficient ground to proceed against them.
The court order comes at a time when cases involving alleged Hindu extremists are falling apart with witnesses turning hostile.
Patil ordered the discharge of Noorul Huda, Raees Ahmed, Salman Farsi, Farogh Magdumi, Shaikh Mohammed Ali, Asif Khan, Mohammed Zahid and Abrar Ahmed. Two of them, Shaikh Mohammed Ali and Asif Khan, will remain in jail because they have been convicted in the 7/11 train blasts case.
The nine men had been arrested by the Maharashtra ATS for the Malegaon blasts on September 8, 2006 that killed 37 and injured over 100.
The ATS filed a chargesheet against them on December 21, 2006. The case was transferred to the CBI within two months of the chargesheet. The CBI investigation too pointed to the involvement of the nine men.
Later, the NIA was asked to probe the case and the agency arrested another set of people as accused in the case: Manohar Nawaria, Rajendra Chaudhary, Dhan Singh Shiv Singh, Lokesh Sharma, Sunil Joshi (dead), Ramchandra Kalsangra (wanted), Ramesh Mahalkar (wanted), Sandeep Dange (wanted) and a few others.
On Monday, three of the eight men discharged were present in the court room when Patil said: “You are discharged from the case, your application has been accepted.” Walking out of the court room, the men wept as they spoke on phone to their families in Malegaon.
“We are finally absolved of all false charges against us,” said Noorul Huda. He had been charged as accused number one in the case with the ATS claiming that the bombing conspiracy was hatched at his wedding in May 2006. “I am a legally free today. It’s a burden I carried for a decade, losing health, dignity and self-respect.”
The nine men spent more than five years in prison before being let out on bail in 2011 after the NIA took over investigation and arrested the other set of accused. The men had filed a discharge application in 2013 and would travel to Mumbai from Malegaon, twice a month, for proceedings in the case.
Ordering the discharge of the men, Patil said: “In my view, the basic foundation or the objective shown by ATS behind the blast is not acceptable to a man of ordinary prudence. I say so because there was ‘Ganesh immersion’ just prior to September 8, 2006… Had accused no. 1 to 9 any objective that there should be riots at Malegaon, then they ought to have planted bombs at the time of Ganesh immersion which would have caused death of most Hindu people. It seems to me highly impossible that accused no. 1 to 9 who are from Muslim community would have decided to kill their own people to create disharmony between the two communities, that too on a holy day i.e. Shab-e Barat.”
“It is significant to note that when the NIA in its further investigation pointed out accused no. 14 to 17 (Manohar Nawaria, Rajendra Chaudhary, Dhan Singh Shiv Singh, Lokesh Sharma), as offenders of the bomb blast at Malegaon and came to conclusion that accused no. 1 to 9 are innocent, this court as a post office cannot put a stamp of framing charges against them. In my view as the accused no. 1 to 9 are found innocent, the benefit of law must be given to them,” Patil stated in his order.
The court also took note of the NIA turnaround at the last hearing on April 12. Although in its reply on the discharge application, the NIA had pointed towards lapses in the ATS investigation and claimed that there was no evidence against them, special public prosecutor, Prakash Shetty, had opposed the application.
“At the time of first hearing of the matter, he (special PP) has canvassed that he has nothing to say except the reply filed by the NIA on the discharge applications. However, while replying to defence arguments, he made ulta face and strongly objected to the discharge,” the court said.
Meanwhile, NIA Director General Sharad Kumar welcomed the decision of the special court. “We had conducted a thorough and professional investigation into the case and submitted a chargesheet in court. Our probe had found different set of individuals to be involved in the blast. Our stand has been vindicated. We are very happy with the court order,” Kumar told The Indian Express.
He said the NIA had always maintained that its probe had not found any evidence against the men arrested by the Maharashtra ATS. “We also did not oppose their discharge. We only argued that it was not our call. It was in the hands of the court as we were given ‘further investigation’ of the case and not a ‘re-investigation’.”
By evening, there were celebrations in Malegaon where crackers were being burst. Maulana Abdul Hameed Azhari, who had gone to the Mumbai court, said, “The charges were not against the nine, but the entire Muslim community. We stand vindicated.”