The trial in the 2007 Ajmer blast case suffered yet another blow Friday with three more witnesses turning hostile, taking the total up to 19 so far. The trio told a special National Investigation Agency court that they did not know Swami Aseemanand, a key accused in the case.
Ajay Chauhan, the only witness from Haridwar, was in touch with Aseemanand when the latter was hiding there after the police was on his lookout following the blasts. Aseemanand was using a pseudonym, Omkaranand, at this time. Chauhan had read in newspapers that the police were looking for him and identified him. He had told investigators that Aseemanand was staying in a hut near Paramhans Ashram and he often visited him, but he refused to accept this in court.
Shakti Singh, a revenue department employee, who had helped Aseemanand get a ration card under the name of Omkaranand, too went back on his statement. However, he admitted that NIA had called him when he was in Nainital and interrogated him over phone but maintained that he did not give any statement that he knew Aseemanand.
The third witness, Lal Krishna Joshi, a resident of Jhalawar, who was studying in Indore in 2007, had earlier told investigators that he met Sadhvi Pragya Singh at his cousin’s wedding and also knew Sunil Joshi, Bharat Bhai Rateshwar, Mehul, Mohan and Harshad, all accused in the case, and also that he had dropped them at one Archana Ashram on instructions of Pragya Singh and Sanjay Kataria (Anand Raj Kataria’s relative) when the police was in pursuit of the accused. In court, Joshi said he knew only Pragya Singh and none of the others and that he did not give any such statement to the Anti-Terrorist Squad.
Earlier this week, Anand Raj Kataria, a jeweller from Indore with apparent RSS leanings, who had earlier told the ATS he was ‘officially introduced to Sadhvi Pragya Singh’ and knew Aseemanand and Devendra Gupta, went back on his statement.
Public prosecutor Ashwini Sharma told The Indian Express, “The case suffered yet another jolt this week with five more witnesses turning hostile. Now the total number of such witnesses stand at 19. These are ‘material’ witnesses, who would have helped in piecing together the case.”
Four years after the November 10, 2007 blast in Ajmer shrine that killed three and injured 15 others, the case was handed over to the NIA but hearings kept postponed as the witnesses made over a dozen applications delaying their appearance before the court. They cited threat to their lives among other reasons. After the change of regime at the Centre, it was decided that the hearings in the case will be fast-tracked and at least five hearings will be held in a month. Since June 2014, five hearings are being held every month and even as the hearings started from a scratch, 90 of the over 250 witnesses have been cross-examined.
The next hearings are slated for August 14, 17, 18, 25 & 27, for which 25 new witnesses have been called.