TEN YEARS since three blasts at crowded locations across Mumbai left 27 dead and over 127 injured, the trial in the case is yet to begin.
While all trials were stalled due to the Covid-19 pandemic last year, the blasts case has also faced hurdles with the accused being lodged in four separate prisons across the country, some on death row in other terror cases.
On July 13, 2011, Mumbai was rocked by three blasts – at Zaveri Bazaar, Opera House and near a school in Dadar Kabutarkhana close to the railway station — within 10 minutes of each other.
The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), which began a probe in the case, made its first arrest in January 2012. It was claimed that the explosives, assembled at a Byculla flat, were placed on stolen scooters that were planted at the three sites to cause loss to life and property during the evening rush hour.
The ATS claimed that the conspiracy was planned by top operatives of the banned organisation Indian Mujahideen (IM), led by Yasin Bhatkal. Subsequent charge sheets filed by the Anti-Terrorism Squad named 11 accused, including Bhatkal, and some absconding persons who had allegedly planted the explosives and parked the scooters at the three sites.
The accused in the case include Naquee Ahmed, who is claimed to be an informer of the Delhi Police special cell, and his associate Nadeem Akhtar. The two men, the ATS alleged, had helped Bhatkal with renting the Byculla room where he stayed before the blasts. Kalwan Patreja, the only accused in the case who is out on bail, is alleged to have facilitated a hawala transaction of Rs 10 lakh for the blast.
Haroon Naik is alleged to be a co-conspirator, and Kafeel Ahmed is alleged to have also been involved in indoctrinating youth.
The other accused include Asadullah Akhtar, Ajaz Shaikh, Sayed Ismail, Saddam Hussain Khan and Zainul Abedin, who was arrested in 2016.
In the last 10 years, some of the accused have filed for discharge, claiming there was no evidence to show the actual planting of the explosives or their involvement in their procurement.
In March 2019, the court, however, rejected the discharge pleas of Naquee, Ajaz and Kateel while passing an order on
the charges to be framed against all 11 accused. It said there was a prima facie role to show their involvement in offences, including the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, Explosives Act and relevant sections of murder, criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code.
The court said that while the accused had tried to point out contradictory evidence, it was not in the stage to look into it. “…Considering overall material…, in my opinion, create a strong suspicion leading to the presumption that the accused persons (are) involved in the offences for which they are charged,” the court had said in its order in 2019.
Over the last few years, the accused have also sought bail on grounds of delay. One of the reasons for the delay in the trial has been the different locations and the high security required for some of the accused, including Bhatkal.
With some of them — three accused are lodged in Tihar jail, New Delhi, while two are
in a Bengaluru prison — have been insistent on being present to frame charges, the court has, so far, framed charges against six persons who are in Mumbai prisons.
While the pleas on grounds of delay have been rejected, last month, the court sought cooperation from the accused stating that the matter is old and needs to be expedited.
A plea to separate the trials of those deferring framing of charges and those insisting
on it due to the long years of incarceration already spent remains pending.