The investigations into the 2008 serial blasts in several major Indian cities have run into a wall. Make that two walls. The first is a Gujarat government order of 2009 that restricts the accused from being produced before the court. The other is a recent Delhi High Court notification, transferring all Delhi Police Special Cell cases in the state to a magisterial and a sessions court in the Patiala House Courts.
On 13 September 2008, five serial blasts rocked the capital, resulting in the death of 30 people and leaving more than 100 injured. The blast sites were in the busy areas of Karol Bagh, Connaught Place and Greater Kailash. In the same year, similar blasts took place in three other cities — Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and Mumbai. On the day of the Ahmedabad blasts, live bombs were also found and defused in Surat, another city in Gujarat.
Several suspects were rounded up and after ‘interrogation’, they were all linked to the serial blasts. Overall, in five cities, there are 167 accused in 52 cases, of which 103 have been arrested for the 2008 blasts. Investigating agencies heralded it as a bust of the terrorist ring responsible for all these blasts.
In the 2008 Delhi blasts case, there are 13 accused, of which six are in custody at the Sabarmati Jail in Gujarat. They are Zia ur Rahman, Mohammad Shakeel, Mohammad Saif, Zeeshan, Saqib Nissar and N Qayamuddin Kapadia. Initially, the blast cases were being heard on a weekly basis and the accused, though lodged in various jails in the country, were produced in court virtually through video conferencing.
“This was fine till witnesses were required to identify the accused persons,” says MS Khan, advocate for most of the blasts accused. “The witnesses told the court that they could not identify the accused through video conferencing and so the court issued a warrant for their production. The Gujarat Police refused to produce them, citing a 2009 notification of the Gujarat government.”
The notification had been issued by the Gujarat government on 27 October 2009, under section 268 of the Criminal Procedure Code, restricting removal of terror suspects from the Sabarmati Jail in Gujarat.
In 2011, responding to a writ petition moved by Khan, the Supreme Court asked the Gujarat government to produce the accused whenever summoned by a court. However, in April this year, when a Delhi court asked for the accused to be produced, the Gujarat police refused, citing once again the 2009 notification. Khan is now planning to move a contempt petition before the apex court.
In the same writ, the accused had petitioned that a single court be set up to deal with all the 2008 terror cases. The nature of terror cases is sensitive and their load immense. The chargesheet of the Ahmedabad and Surat cases alone runs into some 60,000 pages. Likewise, the chargesheet for the Mumbai blasts case consists of 1,809 pages, 12,000 in the Jaipur blasts case and around 10,000 in the Delhi blasts case.
Earlier this month, the Delhi High Court notified that all cases of the Delhi Police’s Special Cell (its counter-terror wing) would be transferred from various Delhi courts to two benches in the Patiala House Courts. This would mean dumping hundreds of cases on two judges. Add to this the fact that the Special Cell files an average of 50 cases a year, and you have a situation where in the race to dispose off cases, the chances of miscarriage of justice is only multiplied.
Take Javed Ahmad Tantray (aka Sikandar) and Ashiq Ali Bhatt (aka Faisal). The Delhi Police Special Cell claimed that the two alleged Hizbul Mujahideen operatives had driven from Jammu & Kashmir to New Delhi to attempt a 26/11-like attack in the capital on Independence Day of 2009.
The Tees Hazari court in Delhi framed the charges against the two, admitted the evidence against them and the lawyers made their final arguments. After the Delhi High Court notification, a judge who did not hear the trial proceedings will now be assigned the case and will pronounce his judgment after listening to fresh arguments.
There are at least three other terror cases awaiting judgment in other courts in Delhi that will now be transferred to Patiala House. It is not that courts do not move fast. The swift verdict in the case of the 26/11 perpetrator Ajmal Kasab is testimony to that.
Unless the circumstances are extraordinary, there is little reason to move an almost complete case to a new judge. Doing so will only delay justice from being done.