Proven Innocent Seven Years Too Late

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Time frame The court room after the blast in Hubli, Photo: KPN
Time frame The court room after the blast in Hubli,    Photo: KPN

The low-intensity bomb blast in the Judicial First Class Magistrate Court complex in Hubli, northern Karnataka, on 10 May 2008 was touted by the then BJP government as a breach in fight against terror by the Congress government. Incidentally, it was the day when the first phase of the Assembly election was held. The news of the blast sent out palpable tension throughout the state, just six days before the city of Hubli went to polls on 16 May.

The CIDteam had alleged that explosives, detonators and jihadi literature as well as bomb-making manuals were seized from the men who were arrested for involvement in the incident. They were accused of being part of a ‘Hubli-based sleeper cell with Pakistani links’ that was conspiring to bomb it companies and other sensitive installations in Karnataka.

Amidst the elections, an atmosphere of fear gripped Karnataka that terror outfits had reached the southern state. Many believe the situation helped the BJP to polarise the electorate and sweep the Assembly poll a few days later to come to power in the state.

Making the blast a major political plank for the 2008 election, the then BJP state president and MP Sadanand Gowda lambasted the Congress saying, “The blasts at the Hubli court signifies a black spot on the Assembly election and exposes the union government’s inability to curb terrorism across the nation that has resulted in the Hubli Court blast.”

The bjp’s rise to power gave the investigators a free hand in the probe. On 30 April 2015, seven years later, the 17 men arrested on terror charges for involvement in the 2008 blast stood acquitted. The additional district and sessions judge, Gopal Krishna Kolli, acquitted them and slammed the Karnataka cid saying they had “miserably failed to prove their case”.

The reasons for the delayed investigation and the prolonged trial may be many as the complex maze of legal tangles ensured that the accused were never given a fair chance to defend themselves. The Corps of Detectives in its case chargesheet listed over 273 witnesses. By 2013, only 130 witnesses had been produced by the police.

To make matters worse, the trial saw a change of judges over the years and also the video conferencing set-up installed for the trial malfunctioned for months on end. Some of the accused were also implicated in the serial blasts in Ahmedabad, Gujarat and all this led to delays beyond a reasonable time despite the Supreme Court insisting on a day-to-day trial in the case.

Ismail D Jalgar, one of the lawyers for the accused in the case, told Tehelka, “We demolished the charges by the prosecution in a step-bystep manner. We managed to prove that all the explosives and books recovered by the police were planted. The tutored witnesses produced by the police could not sustain cross examination and we showed that most of the witnesses were office bearers of certain outfits.”

The accused had made several attempts to secure freedom but were denied the right on several occasions. One of the accused, Syed Sadiq, was arrested on charges that his computer had a manual on bomb-making — a charge that Syed had challenged but his bail plea was rejected in 2010 by the Karnataka High Court. However, a Supreme Court order in 2011 granted him bail as the police could not establish the charges against him.

The others accused in the case including an it professional Yahya Iyash Kamakutti were not so fortunate. His bail plea was rejected in 2011 by the Karnataka High Court. In 2012, another accused Allah Baksh, who earlier worked as a house surgeon with KIMS Hospital at the time of his arrest, moved the high court for bail which also was denied in August 2012.

Yahya Kamakutti and Allah Baksh will soon be free when the court orders reach the jail. Reacting to the verdict, Syed Sadiq told Tehelka,”We have full faith in the judicial system of the country but I wish the trial had been faster as directed by the Supreme Court.”

The other 14 men, albeit standing acquitted in the Hubli blast case, will continue to be in prison for a while as they have legal battles to be fought in other blast- and terror cases filed against them by the police in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

vijay.grover@tehelka.com

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