A special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court on Monday, April 16, declared all five accused, who had been arrested in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case, free of charges. The terror probe agency had investigated the case along with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
This is not the only time the NIA has lost cases. The probe agency has often been accused of being lenient with Hindu-right wing terror outfits after the NDA government came to power in 2014. This claim was supported by Rohini Salian, public prosecutor for the state of Maharashtra, who, in June 2015, had told The Indian Express that officials of the NIA had told her to “go easy” on the 2008 Malegaon accused. Her statement had made headlines.
Given below is a brief list of cases the NIA has lost in court in recent times.
2006 Malegaon blast case: A series of bombs went off in Malegaon on September 8, 2006, killing as many as 37 people and injuring over 100 others. In April 2016, ten years after the case, ten Muslim youths, who had been accused in the case, were let go by a special NIA court on the grounds of lack of evidence against them.
2008 Malegaon blast case: On September 29, 2008, a blast ripped through Malegaon, Nashik district, Maharashtra, claiming the lives of seven people and injuring almost 100 others.
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The prosecution had charged Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and Lt Colonel Shrikant Purohit with plotting the blast. The two were arrested in October the same year. After nine years of trial, charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) against Sadhvi Pragya and Lt Col Shrikant Purohit were dropped by a Special NIA court on December 27, 2017.
2007 Mecca Masjid blast case: In the afternoon of May 18, 2007, at around 1:15 pm, a pipe bomb ripped through the 17th-century Mecca Masjid of Hyderabad, which is located in the old city area, close to Charminar. The ensuing explosion claimed eight lives and injured 58 others.
The case was handed over to the CBI within a month, and then the NIA in 2011. Although initial investigations pointed to the role of LeT and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), later investigations revealed the role of a right-wing terror group called the Abhinav Bharat.
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The NIA chargesheeted ten persons, including Swami Aseemanand, Sunil Joshi, Devender Gupta, Lokesh Sharma alias Ajay Tiwari, Lakshman Das Maharaj, Mohanlal Rateshwar and Rajender Chowdhary. Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange were shown as absconding. Out of these, five had been arrested. Sunil Joshi, a prime accused, was shot dead by unidentified persons in Dewas, Madhya Pradesh, on December 29, 2007, while key witness Lt Col Shrikant Purohit was declared hostile in February 2018.
On Monday, April 16, 2018, five of the accused, those who had been arrested, including Aseemanand, were acquitted of all charges.
2007 Ajmer Dargah blast case: On October 11, 2007, a blast rocked the Dargah Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Rajasthan. The incident, which occurred in the courtyard of the dargah, popular as Ajmer Sharif, took place during the holy month of Ramzan just before Iftar festivities were to begin. The blast reportedly killed three people and injured 17 others.
While initial investigations pointed towards the role of Pakistan terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), later it was found that members affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), were behind the blast.
The case, which garnered a lot of public and media attention, was taken over by the NIA from the Rajasthan Anti-Terror-Squad (ATS), and was put through a fast track court after the BJP-led NDA government took command of the Centre in 2014.
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The probe agency claimed that charges had been steered towards Hindu-right-wing groups on the basis of Swami Aseemanand’s confession that he along with other activists were involved in bombing of places of worship like Ajmer Sharif, Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, etc. He also allegedly admitted to playing a role in the Malegaon blasts and the Samjhauta Express blasts.
Charges were filed against Aseemanand, Sunil Joshi, Devendra Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Chandrashekhar Leve, Harshad Solanki, Mehul Kumar, Mukesh Vasani and Bharat Bhai.
By July 2015, a total of 19 witnesses had turned hostile. Swami Aseemanand, the key accused in the case, was acquitted by a Special NIA court on March 8, 2017. However, Devendra Gupta and Bhavesh Patel were sentenced to life imprisonment in the case.