On February 18 in 2007, an IED blast was carried out in the Samjhauta train – which runs between Delhi and Lahore – at Panipat in Haryana. According to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the terror blast was carried out in pursuance to a criminal conspiracy aimed at threatening the “unity, integrity, security and sovereignty” of India. 68 people including 43 Pakistan citizens, 10 Indian citizens and 15 unidentified people were killed in the blast. 64 out of the total killed were civil passengers and 4 were Railways officials. 12 people including 10 Pakistanis and two Indians were also injured in the terrorist attack. A number of train coaches were also burnt in the resultant fire.
A Special NIA Court in Panchkula has reserved the order for March 14 in the case that witnessed a protracted in-camera trial involving four accused – and a number of witnesses turning hostile. Haryana Police initially registered an FIR in the matter but the Ministry of Home Affairs subsequently transferred the probe to the NIA in July 2010. The first charge sheet was filed in the case in June 2011 and two supplementary charge sheets were filed in August 2012 and June 2013.
What did the initial investigation reveal?
The initial information revealed that two coaches of the train – which had left the railway station Diwana in Panipat at 23:53 hours had caught fire due to the bomb explosions and inflammable substances used by the accused. The blast took place between Diwana and Panipat. The train No 4001 UP Attari Express had started its journey at 22:50 hours from Delhi for Attari with 16 coaches. Out of them, four were reserved second class sleeper coaches. The blast took place in two unreserved coaches. Four IEDs had been planted in the unreserved compartments – only two of them exploded and the remaining two were recovered later.
Who are the accused in the case?
There were eight accused in the case but only four faced the trial. Swami Aseemanand alias Naba Kumar Sarkar, the prime accused in the case, had been granted bail by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2015. Three accused – Kamal Chauhan, Rajinder Chaudhary and Lokesh Sharma are in judicial custody in Central Jail Ambala. Three accused – Amit Chouhan (Ramesh Venkat Malhakar), Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange have been declared as proclaimed offenders in the case. Another accused Sunil Joshi – NIA calls him the mastermind – was killed in December 2007 in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh. Pertinently, the prime accused Aseemanand has been already acquitted in Mecca Masjid Blast case and the Ajmer Dargah blast case. In the Samjhauta case, the NIA has said that Aseemanand was the main ideological support behind the conspiracy and also provided some financial support to those accused who carried out the task besides knowingly providing shelter to them.
What did the NIA Chargesheet say?
According to the NIA probe report placed before the trial court, Aseemanand was “quite upset” with the “Islamic Jihadi terrorist attacks” on Hindu temples like Akshardham (Gujarat), Raghunath Mandir (Jammu) and Sankat Mochan Mandir (Varanasi). Aseemanand and associates “developed vengeance” against the whole Muslim community, said the NIA in its initial chargesheet, adding he propounded the theory called ‘bomb ka badla bomb”. The accused persons met at different persons across the country in order to conspire, plan and chalk out the strategies to execute bomb blasts at or near the Muslim places of worship, places inhabited by Muslims and the Samjhauta Express train which is used by Indian and Pakistani Muslims for travel to each other’s relatives, said the NIA. The suitcase bombs were allegedly planted by Kamal, Lokesh, Rajender and Amit.
Accused Rajender Chaudhary along with Sunil Joshi, Ramchandra Kalsangra, Lokesh Sharma, Kamal Chauhan, Amit and others is said to have attended training at Bagli forest in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh in January 2006 during which the “timer bomb with high explosive” was prepared and demonstrated. The accused also participated in the firing practice at Karni shooting range in Faridabad in April 2006. The train was chosen because there was “no security available at Old Delhi Railway Station,” according to the reconnaissance carried out by the accused. The accused travelled from Indore and stayed in the dormitory room at Old Delhi Railway Station prior to the blast.
How many witnesses were in the case?
There were around 299 witnesses in the case. 13 of them are Pakistani citizens – they never appeared before the trial court despite the issuance of summons and communication through the Ministry of External Affairs. A number of witnesses turned hostile during the trial since 2013. Last year, the NIA is said to have given up witnesses Dr Satish Kumar Gupta and DSP Vijender Singh.
The Special Judge hearing the case in an order passed on May 04, 2018 expressed displeasure over the slow progress in the trial and said that that the prosecution serves only one or two witnesses for the dates fixed by the court despite the fact that two days are dedicated for the hearing every alternate week.
At least eight judges have heard the case since the beginning of the trial. In the end, Special CBI Judge Jagdeep Singh – a judicial officer known for his decisions in rape and murder cases against Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh – heard the Samjhauta blast case since August 2018, the statements of most of the witnesses were recorded by the judges who presided over the trial prior to his appointment in the NIA Court.