13 arrested by ATS still languishing in jail; RTI replies pick holes in investigation

Parag Sawant, 34, now recognises his family members. His eyes glitter when his young daughter Prachiti comes near his bed, says his mother Madhuri. For the last seven years, this victim of serial blasts on Mumbai’s suburban trains on July 11, 2006, is lying on a bed in the Hinduja Hospital here. His amazing recovery from coma in 2008 had left doctors astounded. But five years later, his recovery slowed down after a series of convulsions. His family remains optimistic. It wants to see him back, walking happily on his feet with his daughter.

For the past seven years, 13 Muslim men, alleged activists of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), arrested by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) for the blasts, are languishing in jail. Ironically, the pieces of evidence wove together by the ATS against the 13 have started falling apart in court proceedings. The Mumbai Crime Branch police have arrested five other men, allegedly belonging to Indian Mujahideen (IM), claiming that they were responsible for the July 11 blasts.

But the call data records (CDR) of these accused have successfully challenged the evidence produced against them by the ATS. Their families hope that once the innocence of the accused is proved, all 13 can walk free.

Seven blasts in the evening rush hour in first-class compartments of local trains killed 187 people and injured over 800 others. For seven years now, the case has seen various turnarounds, revelations and exposed the shoddy probe.

The ATS, then headed by K.P. Raghuvanshi, swung into action and arrested 13 men by October 2006. The charge sheet was filed on November 29, 2006, despite the written submissions by the accused to the court claiming that confessions were taken under severe custodial torture and the ATS was falsely implicating them. Even as the trial began in 2007, the accused moved the Supreme Court and got a stay on the process.

The entire investigation of the ATS was challenged by the arrest of Sadiq Shaikh and four other men, allegedly belonging to the IM, in 2008, by the Crime Branch police. In the subsequent probe, it was revealed that these men were responsible for all major blasts in the country after 2005, including the July 11 train blasts. But the ATS, gave Shaikh clean bill in the train blasts case. It came despite Shaikh’s confession in October 2008 that he, along with other IM members, carried out the train blasts.

The ATS investigation got further exposed after the CDRs were presented to the court. Ehtesham Siddiqui, Asif Bashir Khan and Mohammad Faisal have been charged by the ATS with planting bombs on trains. However, the CDRs of their phones have clearly shown that all the three were not even near the blast sites on that day.

Ironically, the ATS had earlier used the CDRs to establish the link between the accused and the Lashkar-e-Taiba and to seek their police custody. When the ATS was asked to produce the CDRs by the accused, it informed the special Mcoca court that the CDRs have been destroyed. The accused moved the Bombay High Court in 2012 and the CDRs were made available in public domain only after the court’s strictures.

The accused have also made use of the Right to Information Act to blow holes in the ATS theory. Since 2007, Siddiqui has filed 1,024 RTI applications. While deposing as a defence witness, he has produced 62 RTI replies in the special court. For example, prosecution witness Vishal Parmar claimed that he had seen Siddiqui and another person at the Churchgate station at 5.15 p.m. boarding the Virar local. Parmar had stated that he had gone to meet one compounder Baban Rankhambe at the ENT Hospital, Churchgate. The RTI reply indicates that no person with that name works in the ENT hospital. Also, through RTI, Siddiqui found out that the train had come to the platform around 5.07 p.m. and not 5.15 p.m. as claimed by Parmar.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) charge sheet in the 2006 Malegaon bomb blast case also exposed the ATS probe. The NIA, while not even mentioning nine Muslim men arrested by the ATS in the Malegaon case, framed charges against right-wing Hindu elements. All nine men have now applied for discharge application from the Malegaon case, based on the NIA charge sheet. However, the probe in the Malegaon blasts has relation with July 11 blasts in Mumbai. As per the ATS case, two accused, Shaikh Mohammad Ali and Asif Khan, were common in both cases and had provided explosives. After the NIA charge sheet, the ATS claim has come under yet another trouble.

Senior journalist Ashish Khetan has moved a public interest litigation petition in the Bombay High Court, requesting an independent commission of inquiry into the conduct of investigating officers. “Apart from innocents being acquitted from the case, it is also essential that the victims of the blasts get justice. The investigations in this case show the pile of lies by the investigating officers. It needs to be probed,” Mr. Khetan told The Hindu.

Seven years after the blasts, the investigating agencies have not been able to submit a single solid proof against the 13 accused. Justice to the victims of this blast yet seems a distant reality.

Parag’s daughter wonders why her father can’t accompany her while going out of hospital and her mother finds it difficult to answer her questions. Ehetsham’s father from Jaunpur in U.P. rarely visits him. He is uncertain, whether he can ever accompany his father back home.

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