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Recorded, denied: 10 setbacks to NIA’s Samjhauta Express case

The 10 witnesses who turned hostile in the Samjhauta Express attack case, and why NIA was counting on them.

samjhuata case, samjhuata express case, samjhuata express attack, samjhuata express blast, samjhuata case witness, samjhuata case witness hostile, NIA samjhuata case, NIA, NIA samjhuata case witness, india news, latest news, gujarat news The blasts had occurred near Dewana railway station in Panipat district of Haryana, killing 68 people, mostly from Pakistan, and injuring 12 on the intervening night of February 18 and 19, 2007. (Source: Express archive)

On Friday, the NIA suffered yet another setback to its probe into the Samjhauta Express blasts when a tenth witness turned hostile. Neera, 40, was the second among the 10 to claim that he or she had made an earlier statement under pressure. The other eight have denied the statements the NIA attributes to them.

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“There is no direct evidence and it is a case of circumstantial evidence,” NIA special public prosecutor R K Handa said. He remains optimistic: “Though these many witnesses turning hostile does have an impact, we are still hopeful. Even hostile witnesses’ statements will be taken up during arguments after all witnesses have been examined.”

Advocate for the accused V P S Namdev said, “All the accused were framed during the Congress regime just to tarnish the image of the RSS and the BJP.”

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The 10 who have turned hostile:

Bharat Mohanlal Ratheshwar alias Bharat Bhai, 47

WHO: A resident of Valsad, Gujarat, also among the accused in the 2007 Ajmer blast. According to NIA, it was at his house that the conspiracy meeting for the blasts took place.

EARLIER: Statements at NIA camp office in Panchkula on December 29, 2010, and before judicial magistrate, Panchkula, on December 30, 2010. Bharat said he knew Swami Aseemanand and others accused for a long time. He described a June 2006 meeting in his home, allegedly presided over by Aseemanand and including Manoj (Sunil Joshi), Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Sandeep Dange, Lokesh Sharma, Amit and Ramji Kalsranga. “Sandeep said, ‘Main Samjhauta train ko hi udha doonga, aur aap log sirf baatein karte rehna’,” Bharat’s original statement read. “Swami Aseemanand suggested some sites for action to retaliate against the attacks by Muslim terrorists on Hindus… their religious sites (Malegaon, Ajmer, Hyderabad) or any Muslim educational institution). Swamiji told Joshi that he would try to contribute financially as much as possible. Sunil said he needed not worry about money; ‘paisa dene wale aur bhi log hain’.”

LATER: Statement before NIA court on May 30, 2015. Bharat said he had been pressured by NIA to give the earlier statement when in custody. He said he had met Aseemanand only once, during a yajna.

[related-post]

Kavita, 46

WHO: Wife of Bharat Bhai.

EARLIER: Alleged statement before an NIA official on May 28, 2011. “Because of Aseemanand’s faith in Ramakrishna Mission, my husband and I became close to him,” the NIA had quoted her. “A local from Valsad, Dhansukh Bhai Mistri, introduced us to Swami Aseemanand and on Dhansukh Bhai’s request we invited Aseemanand to bhoomi pooja at our home. Aseemanand introduced Manoj alias Sunil Joshi and Pragya Singh, who visited our home occasionally. In June or July 2006, on my return from Mumbai, my husband Bharat Bhai told me that Swami Aseemanand, Pragya , Sunil Joshi etc had come to our house for a meeting…”

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LATER: Statement before NIA court on July 3, 2015, when she denied having made the earlier statement. “Neither my husband nor I know Dhankush Bhai. I do not know Aseemanand nor can I identify him.”

Shivam Dhakad, 33

WHO: A resident of Dewas, NIA witness for an alleged conspiracy meeting in Jaipur in October 2005 involving the RSS’s Indresh Kumar, Sadhvi, Sunil Joshi, Lokesh Sharma and Ramji Kalsangra. Dhakad allegedly also described a plot to kill U C Banerjee (of the Justice Banerjee commission that probed the Godhra fire).

EARLIER: Alleged statement before NIA’s ASP Vishal Garg in Dewas jail on February 25, 2011. “After reaching Jaipur, we (Shivam Dhakad, Sunil Joshi, Rajinder Pehalwan and Lokesh) stayed in a Gujarati dharmasala. Next day (October 26, 2005) Pragya came and after some time Indresh arrived. A secret meeting was held among them,” reads the statement attributed to him. “Joshi and I visited Faridabad (on April 16, 2006) and met Alok Kumar, RSS leader. He along with 12-15 persons took us to a firing range where we practised with .22 pistols and air pistols.” Another part of the statement reads, “On reaching Kolkata… I asked Joshi the purpose of our visit but he did not reply. After returning, I understood the motive of our visit was to kill Justice U C Banerjee, heading the Godhra commission, but due to security Joshi did not succeed.”

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LATER: Statement before NIA court on July 3, 2015, denying he had ever made the earlier statement. “I was never associated with RSS… I do not know Sunil Joshi, Pragya, Ramji, Lokesh Sharma…”

Ram Charan Patel, 40

WHO: Resident of Dewas, also accused in Sunil Joshi’s murder, NIA witness to establish that Joshi had arranged shooting practice at a range near Pune in 2006.

EARLIER: Alleged statement to NIA about purported pistol shooting practice and about Joshi’s links with Pragya Singh, Ramji, Sandeep Dange and Lokesh Sharma.

LATER: Became the first witness to turn hostile on March 20, 2015. In NIA court, he denied making the earlier statement.

Vasudev Parmar, 37

WHO: A resident of Dewas, with RSS roots. NIA witness for purchase of SIM cards, for the deposit of two bags at a house in Dewas, and for establishing that Shivam Dhakad (above) did associate with Kalsranga.

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EARLIER: Alleged statement to NIA official on February 24, 2011. “ …Anand Raj Kataria had purchased nine mobile phone SIM cards of Idea Company. These cards had been purchased on the direction of Joshi for the new courier services we were to open. Joshi had been in regular touch with Kataria, Ramji, Lokesh, Dange, Dhakad etc,” the earlier statement read.

“… Sheetal Gahlot (another witness turned hostile) told me that Ramji had taken a bag from him and another was thrown into the Narmada (this was after Joshi’s murder)… “…Dhakad was close to Joshi. He borrowed Rs 2 lakh and did not return it. Only when Joshi pressured him did Dhakad issue a cheque of Rs 50,000 in my name as sought by Joshi.”

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LATER: Statement in NIA court on May 30, 2015. He denied the earlier statement, which included a purported admission that two bags had been brought by Mahul and one Raj after Joshi’s murder and kept at the house of one Devendra Tiwari in Dewas.

Sheetal Gahlot, 35

WHO: A resident of Dewas, who NIA alleges had seen a bomb in a bag seized from Joshi’s home after his murder in late 2007.

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EARLIER: Alleged statement before an NIA official on February 23, 2011: “Vasudev Parmar told me to collect the bags belonging to late Joshi from his brother-in-law Chandra Shekhar of Dewas. I collected the two bags and brought these to the RSS office in Dewas. I opened one bag and saw many rods connected with thin electric wires wrapped in a plastic sheet tied with wires. On opening the other bag… a pistol and some rods wrapped with wire were seen. I took the bag and threw it into the Narmada near Nemawer (100 km from Dewas) and informed Kailash Chandrawat.”

LATER: Statement before NIA court on May 30, 2015, denying he had ever made the earlier statement.

Rohit Kumar, 25

WHO: RSS worker, resident of Bhagalpur, who allegedly told NIA that Bharat Bhai, Sunil Joshi, Sandeep Dange and Ramji Kalsranga visited Jharkhand to arrange material for the attack.

EARLIER: His alleged statement to NIA officer Garg: “I met Sunil Joshi during April-May 2006 along with Bharat Bhai. They met one Devender Gupta and discussed the purchase of pistols, etc. In June-July, Ramji and Gupta arrived at the RSS office in Mihijam. Ramji put a packet on the bed which was wrapped in a Hindi newspaper and contained a detonator with electric wires. From photographs of a detonator shown by NIA, which said it was used in the Samjhauta train blast, I can confirm it was the same detonator that I saw with Gupta and Ramji.”

LATER: Statement before NIA court on May 1, 2015. He submitted that he had never met additional S P Garg and the officer had never recorded his statement. “I do know Devender Gupta, who was district pracharak in Jaamtara, but I do not know Lokesh Sharma. I was never sent by Gupta anywhere in 2006. I do not know Sunil Joshi, I do not know Bharat Bhai, and never met them.”

Jadgish Bhai, 34

WHO: Resident of Surat, whom the NIA wanted to corroborate the statement of Neera (below) about a visit by Sadhvi to Surat.

EARLIER: Alleged statement to NIA official on May 27, 2011. “On February 17, 2007, Sunder Kand Katha was organised at my residence. We all were engrossed in the pooja in the evening when suddenly we noticed that Didi (Pragya Singh), the first time in sanyasi robes and her head shaven, had come to our house with one another woman (Neera). Both of them joined the pooja for sometime.”

LATER: In court, he denied making the earlier statement or that any Sunder Kand Katha was organised at his house that day.

Ghanshyam Magharam, 44

WHO: A resident of Surat, whom NIA wanted to establish the same visit as Jagdish Bhai’s statement would.

EARLIER: A statement attributed to him by NIA. “A Sunder Kand Katha was organised at the house of Jagdish Bhai on February 17, 2007, where Pragya Singh along with the other woman, Neera, came. After a few days, asked by Bhagwan Jha, I went to the railway station to pick Neera up and she stayed at my house for a night and the next day, I dropped her at the railway station.”

LATER: Statement before NIA court on May 2, 2015. He said he had never met additional SP Garg and the officer had never recorded his statement.

Neera, 40

WHO: A resident of Gurgaon who allegedly attended the religious event (above) with Sadhvi and whose testimony the NIA wanted to use to prove links bewteen Aseemanand and other accused, as well as the meeting at the house of Bharat Bhai.

EARLIER: Statement to NIA officials and judicial magistrate Gurgaon on February 12, 2011, that she had visited Indore, Valsad and Surat with Sadhvi and knew Aseemanand and Lokesh Sharma.

LATER: Latest witness to turn hostile on July 17, 2015. She submitted in court that NIA officials had pressured her to make that earlier statement. She said she did go with Pragya Singh, but only to Indore to attend a yajna in 2008 and where she stayed for only eight days, but never to Valsad. Lokesh and Aseemanand were present in the court; she said she did not know them.

First published on: 20-07-2015 at 02:27 IST
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