‘It is no longer necessary to keep them in judicial custody'

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram on Monday said the National Investigation Agency (NIA) would not oppose the bail pleas of the nine persons arrested in connection with the 2006 Malegaon bomb blasts case, an announcement that could leave the Maharashtra's Anti Terror Squad (ATS) red-faced.

“As far as the NIA is concerned, which is in-charge of investigating the case, they are not opposing the bail,” Mr Chidamabaram said at his monthly press conference, adding “whether the bail will be granted or not, it is not for me to say. It is for the court to say.”

The Home Minister's statement comes in the wake of the National Minorities Commission Chairman Wajahat Habibullah writing to both the Union Home and the Law Ministries, asking them to pro-actively intervene and clear the way for bail to be granted to the nine Muslim youths, who have been languishing in Arthur Road prison since their arrest, though it is almost a year since Swami Aseemanand made a confession in the case.

Asked whether the decision not to oppose bail meant the accused were innocent, he said, “No, until any other person who is involved is actually found and chargesheeted, and until the old charge sheet is revised, we can't come to any conclusion, one way or the other.”

But he also underlined the fact that since there was a confession (that of Swami Aseemanand) and investigations were on in some other directions, the NIA had concluded that it was no longer necessary to keep them in judicial custody and, therefore, the NIA would not oppose the bail. But, he clarified, it was for the court to take a final view.

The Minister, however, expressed his unhappiness over the delay in achieving a breakthrough in the investigations into the July 13 Mumbai blasts earlier this year, in which 24 persons were killed at three places. “We would have to take a view on what we would do with the Mumbai investigations. Since July 13, it is now quite a lot of time. We are concerned,” he said, when asked about the progress in the case.

Mr. Chidamabaram said he would talk to Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithiviraj Chavan soon and get back on the case, which is being investigated by the Maharashtra ATS and the Mumbai Police Crime Branch.

There was a likelihood that the NIA may take over the investigations, informed sources said.

Promising action on the District Reorganisation Commission (DRC) report, Mr. Chidambaram appealed to the agitating groups in Manipur to withdraw their now three-month-old blockade.

The blockade on National Highway 37 entered the 92nd day on Monday, the Minister said adding that Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh had appointed the DRC, requesting both the Kukis, who want a separate district for Sadar Hills, and the Meiti groups, who want a separate district out of Jiribam, that they should wait for the DRC's report.

With both sides unwilling to budge from their positions, Mr. Chidambaram said the Manipur government with the Centre's assistance, was able to ply on an average 1,100 trucks with supplies every week to the State.

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