At 5am on 22 February when Sushilkumar Shinde took off from IGI airport in a special flight for Hyderabad, he was accompanied by home secretary RK Singh and DG National Investigation Agency (NIA) SC Sinha. The Union home minister had himself informed the nation about his trip. Previous night at 9.30pm an NIA team had flown to Hyderabad.
After an on the spot assessment and review of the situation in Hyderabad with the Governor, chief minister, chief secretary, DGP, commissioner of police and other senior officers, Shinde made a statement in both Houses of Parliament that “the NIA will investigate the case in conjunction with the Andhra Pradesh Police”.
A day later, on 23 February, Hyderabad Police Commissioner Anurag Sharma held a press conference to announce that his team had laid hands on “vital clues” to crack the case soon. “The investigation by the state police has been handed over to Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by Additional Commissioner (Crime),” he said, adding that six specialised teams have been formed and they have already started collecting evidence. This was contrary to the announcement made to by the home minister in Parliament that NIA was to investigate the case. The Hyderabad police commissioner had upstaged home ministry, though as sources say after consultation with Centre through “official channels”.
The issue has raised questions in security and intelligence circles on two counts – why does home minister either have to retract from his own words or have it flouted so often? Second, what was purpose of NIA when it could not even investigate Hyderabad blasts? The initial leads suggest that Indian Mujahideen (IM) could be allegedly involved in the blast. Ironically, NIA is not investigating cases where suspected militants of IM are involved.
The agency has only one general case—RC-06/2012/NIA/DLI—registered against the IM as late as on 10 September 2012. The NIA website says as per the GOI, Ministry of Home Affairs (IS-IV division) order, a case was registered against IM. Summary of allegations is a one-liner: “Terrorist activities of IM and conspiracy for waging war against Government of India.” Present status: “Case under investigation.” No charge sheet filed so far.
NIA had come into existence through an Act of Parliament on 31 December 2008 in the aftermath of Mumbai terror attack to specially investigate terror cases where the probe required specialised training and the logistical requirements spread across more than one state. Even as it was created after the Mumbai terror attacks with a specific purpose, ironically besides the Delhi High Court bomb blast cases where a Jammu and Kashmir based terror outfit was allegedly involved, it has not been involved any other major terror case that took place after 26/11, 2008.
A look at the 52 cases that NIA has registered so far indicate that besides the Delhi High Court bomb blast case, it has mostly been handling cases of Assam and other parts of North-East, Kerala, money laundering for alleged terror funding and cases relating to Maoists. The fourth day of April 2011 mark a significant chapter in NIA’s brief history when three cases relating to Mecca Masjid (Hyderabad) RC 02/2011/NIA DLI Malegaon (Maharastra) RC03/2011/NIA DLI and Dargah Sharif (Ajmer) RC 04/2011/NIA DLI were registered on the same day at the instance of the home ministry. In these cases, NIA discarded the services of Maharashtra and Rajasthan ATS. It was the same with the CBI in the Malegaon case. In the last mentioned case, the agency came to the conclusion that right wing—Hindu/saffron terror, which formed basis of Shinde infamous statement at Jaipur AICC conclave—was involved and filed a separate charge sheet.
Another Malegaon Azad Maidan blast case was taken from the STF and handed over to the agency on 13 April 2011.
Just as NIA was getting ready to investigate the Hyderabad twin blasts case and waiting for MHA directive for the same, the news came Hyderabad police commissioner had constituted SIT to investigate it. Sources said since both the Centre and state were ruled by the Congress, the state police could not have gone ahead in constituting the SIT even as the home minister had declared that NIA would investigate it, without clearance from the top functionaries at the Centre.
There have been some reports suggesting that Yasin Bhatkal, the Indian Mujahideen chief, could be among the bomb planters. Bhatkal had planted bomb at German Bakery in Pune. The blast killed 17 people and injured 64 people on 13 February 2010. This case is being investigated by the Pune ATS.
There is a great deal of talk among security and intelligence experts that the NIA was going the CBI way where it was guided more by the political expediency. A message from the DG, NIA boasts at its official website that it has opened full-fledged branch at Hyderabad. But that notwithstanding, the NIA for the moment could play only a second fiddle to the Hyderabad Police SIT.