There are many ways to look at the clean chit to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and four others. They have been in detention since 2009 on grounds that their detention was required for investigating the blast in Malegaon which killed, maimed, and hurt people. That the blast took place in the town which has largely a Muslim population had meant that Hindus may have been behind it.
Those had been put behind bars have every reason now to ask the State for restitution. This compensation would be for being put in jail for no reason, or for the mere ineptitude of the investigation agencies, starting from the local police, the Anti-Terrorism Squad, and later, the National Investigation Agency. Their case can become an example for other citizens who suffer in jail because the investigation processes are slow or misdirected.
Before going further, it has to be realised that in this particular instance of admission that people were wrongfully held, political actors would go on a spree on Twitter and face the television cameras, and make it a political issue. Digvijay Singh of the Congress was the first to go on TV saying that it was all politics. More will flow as the day ends. Probably overflow to other arenas.
The other serious issues would then be pushed to the side. Let us look at them.
One, the clean chit raises uncomfortable questions for the criminal jurisprudence system. Stricter laws that India has had, starting from the Maintenance of Internal Security (MISA), came on the statute on the pretext that they help secure the country’s interests. That some leeway not allowed under the CrPC—in terms of the time allowed to file a chargesheet and evidence gathering—were provided. The Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime (MCOCA) was one such law, and another one was the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (TADA) law.
Two, if the ‘main accused’, that is the Sadhvi and others, are now left out of the chargesheet, then who carried out the blasts in Malegaon? If the real culprits are not in the net, where are they and what are they up to? And more importantly, have they been involved in other terror activities? India has had enough of them to have been serious about such serious cases. And what credibility would any major probe and trial have?
Three, it does not matter if the NIA made out a case in court for a clean chit, or whether the ATS has made a mistake. But the culpability of the state in keeping people in the slammer, under indefinite detention, and describing them as ‘accused’ should mean someone should pay a price. If the NIA made an honest confession, it also incriminated the State by implication at various levels
Four, even if one goes by special public prosecutor, RohiniSalian’s claim that NIA had been asking her to go soft on them, it was a self-goal by the State. A cynical view can be that with her withdrawal from the case, the NIA, at the behest of the political bosses, held back the punches, doing a hatchet job. The ATS was working on the case during a Congress-NCP regime. Going soft implies winking at facts
Five, as detailed by The Indian Express this morning, and going by what happened in the courtroom on Friday, the charges against them were dropped for the following reason: the investigation by the ATS headed by Hemant Karkare was way off the mark, and that evidence had been fudged. That is a serious matter because the initial probe by the ATS was by a much-celebrated officer who unfortunately was killed in the 26/11 attack on Mumbai.
Six, Salian could now stand up in a public square and assert that she had been vindicated. That she had believed that the evidence was strong, and therefore did not find it appropriate to go soft. Her accusation was not only denied but rubbished by the NIA. The agency’s stand in the court on Friday does not square with this claim. ‘Not enough evidence’ after nearly seven years of investigation raises serious doubts about the professionalism of the investigators.
Seven, when dealing with a serious blast case, the ATS could not have been so lax as to not have recorded the ‘confessions’ before a magistrate. It implies that the ATS had believed it could have had its way in the court, as if it was dealing with a pickpocket, where a magistrate after a cursory hearing, hands out a punishment. Witnesses being forced to manufacture evidence reflects utter lack of professionalism and probity.
If the NIA’s admission about the agency which probed the case earlier were to be accepted, it underscores the lack of the forensic ability of the investigation agencies. It appears that even in serious cases involving national security, the probe agencies believe in the danda method, which normally is the third degree. In other cases, we can assume that innocents may be punished, and the criminals let go.
Eight, it is also possible that the NIA ended up investigating the ATS, and the investigation of the blast still remains to be done. If the NIA is correct, it will have to find those who carried out the blasts, and prove its case in a much more professional manner than normally is the case. Its real credibility is on the line now. That’s when it would get its clean chit, of being a professional body. It has to better than the Maharashtra ATS.
Updated Date: May 13, 2016 18:23 PM