Senior National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials in New Delhi rejected a proposal by the agency’s Hyderabad office to challenge the bail granted to Mecca Masjid blast accused Swami Aseemanand last month, sources in the NIA have told The Sunday Express.
Aseemanand, main accused in the May 18, 2007, bombing of the mosque that killed nine and injured 58, was given bail by a Hyderabad court on March 23. He walked out of Chanchalguda Jail on April 1 after the NIA chose not to appeal the trial court order.
“There were sufficient grounds to challenge the bail order of Aseemanand and the High Court was at liberty to reject the agency’s move if there were no merits in the appeal. Among investigators, the opinion to appeal was very strong,” officials in Hyderabad, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
On Saturday night, NIA director-general Sharad Kumar did not rule out the possibility of the NIA still appealing the court order. Pressed for a comment, Kumar told The Sunday Express, “I will go through the order and make up my mind what to do or not to do.”
Should the agency decide to move for cancellation of Aseemanand’s bail, it will have to show evidence that the conditions of the bail are being flouted. Aseemanand has promised not to leave Hyderabad without the permission of the court. He has also had to surrender his passport and provide a surety of Rs 1 lakh.
The Mecca Masjid attack, alleged to have been carried out by Hindu extremist groups, is being investigated by the NIA’s Hyderabad branch, with supervision from Delhi. In October 2015, the special public prosecutor in the 2008 Malegaon bombings case, Rohini Salian, had told The Indian Express that the NIA had told her to “go soft” against the accused, also members of rightwing Hindu groups.
Salian had subsequently disclosed that the officer who had brought her the instructions from NIA higher-ups was Suhas Warke, a Superintendent of Police in the agency. The NIA had denied Salian’s allegation.
Sources alleged the NIA headquarters in the capital had directed the Hyderabad branch office not to challenge Aseemanand’s bail.
“For filing an appeal before the High Court, we need sanction from our headquarters and a legal opinion,” said an official. “With Aseemanand having been released, the evidence in the case may get weakened,” the official added.
The NIA was entrusted with seven cases of alleged Hindu rightwing extremism in 2011. In 2014, the agency did not challenge the bail given to Aseemanand in the 2007 Samjhauta blast case, in which several Pakistani nationals were killed, on “technical grounds”.
On March 8, Aseemanand and 6 others were acquitted in the 2007 Ajmer dargah blast case by a Jaipur court. He was then taken from Jaipur to Hyderabad’s Chanchalguda Jail.
Aseemanand aka Naba Kumar Sarkar was arrested on November 19, 2010, from Haridwar by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with the Mecca Masjid attack. A total of 166 witnesses have been examined in the trial; over 100 are still to be examined. Four of the eight accused, including Aseemanand, are currently on bail.