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Mumabi: Held in May for possession of natural uranium, duo granted bail

Jigar Pandya and Abu Tahir had been behind bars since May 5 after the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad arrested them alleging that they were illegally trying to sell the radioactive material online for around Rs 21 crore.

Written by Sadaf Modak | Mumbai |
July 30, 2021 12:57:42 am

Two men arrested in May under the Atomic Energy Act, after they were allegedly found in possession of 7kg of natural uranium, were granted bail by a special court on Thursday.

Jigar Pandya and Abu Tahir had been behind bars since May 5 after the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) arrested them alleging that they were illegally trying to sell the radioactive material online for around Rs 21 crore. The case was then transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).

In his bail plea argued by lawyer Sharif Shaikh, Navi Mumbai resident Tahir had submitted that his father is a scrap dealer who had purchased refuse from a factory nearly a decade ago. Tahir submitted that his father was not aware that the material which came along in the truck was radioactive. The plea said that because it was heavy in weight, his father had stored it with the hope of building a hammer with it someday. The plea said that even in the chargesheet filed by the NIA, the agency had not said that the material was obtained through an illegal purchase.

On behalf of Pandya, lawyer Prakash Salsingikar argued that the NIA chargesheet had no material to claim that a terror angle was involved in the case or there was an attempt by the accused to misuse the substance. It was also submitted that the section under which the two men were tried was punishable for a maximum five years.

The NIA had opposed their bail pleas stating that the sale of uranium is prohibited, adding if the material had gone into the “wrong hands”, it could have been used for terror activities or endangered national security. The two men were booked under the Atomic Energy Act, which prohibits the sale of natural uranium, and criminal conspiracy of the Indian Penal Code.

The ATS had initially claimed that it had received a tip-off that the two accused were planning to sell the radioactive material online. A dummy customer was sent by the state agency and a sample was brought for testing, it said. The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) confirmed the material was natural uranium following which an FIR was filed against the two men.

Uranium has a silver-grey appearance and can be used in nuclear power plants, as counterweights in aircraft and industrial machinery as well as radiation shields in medical equipment. The investigators said that when the duo realised that the material they possessed was uranium, they should have contacted government authorities and returned it instead of selling it, which is prohibited. The arrested men, on the other hand, had claimed they were not aware that the material found on them was natural uranium. They had also submitted that the investigation was complete and the trial is not likely to commence soon due to the pandemic.

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