The pronouncements contained in the NIA court's verdict regarding the Samjhauta Express blast case, amount to a candid confession about the serious failure of the judiciary. While analysing the evolution of the case last week, this column had dealt with the fizzling out of saffron terrorism cases, and the deep state behind that phenomenon. But now, the full text of the court's order points precisely at the failure of the prosecution.
Although the court verdict falls short of expressly stating that it was a case of deliberately losing the case, such an allegation is discernible between the lines. The verdict, coming from a responsible judge, tells us that what has happened to Indian judiciary is not an isolated aberration, but a fundamental malaise. This merits serious pondering, especially when it restates what had been mentioned in some other similar cases in the past.
NIA Court judge Jagdeep Singh notes that he was issuing the judgement exonerating the accused, with deep pain and anguish that he had to let 'a dastardly crime go unpunished for want of credible and admissible evidence'. Obviously such evidence as acceptable in law was not presented by the prosecuton. This is an injustice to the 68 peole who were killed in the blast and their families and an overturning of justice. Not gathering evidence, destoying available evidence, causing witnesses to retract from statements by coercion, unlawful delay, accused in different cases being acquitted and resultant impunity, all put together make a mockery of justice. When perpetrators of planned terrorist acts and torture are supported by the ruling establishment itself, prosecution will cease to be a means of proving crime; instead, it will turn into a machinery to save criminals, as happened in many similar cases in recent times. Nor did the prosecution proceed to go in appeal in any of them.
Judge Jagdeep Singh does tell us how all the accused including Swami Aseemananda came to be declared innocent in the Samjhauta case. The counts on which they were charged were murder, conspiracy, and violation of Explosives Act and railway rules. But then the NIA investigators, made out to be experts in that, were not able to produce any evidence that would prove the intent of the culprits. They did not find out from where and how the substances in the bomb were obtained and who procured them. They could not figure out who made the bomb with the explosive substances, nor who planted them in the train. All that NIA provided was some statements that will not pass muster in law. No facts, no documental evidence, or incriminating items. The result: no punishment for culprits who deliberately murdered several human beings. The tactic seems to be not only to erase evidence so as to lose the case. As the judge pointed out, many witnesses turned hostile during the trial. Although the Supreme Court has directed many a time that there should be laws and mechanisms to protect the witnesses, nothing has happened till now. In many cases, loopholes continue to be arranged for the accused to escape by the retracting of witness depositions in the court. In the Samjhauta case, it is believed that accused Sunil Joshi was killed in order to destroy evidence. And those in charge were not able to bring to book another three accused either.
What happened in the Hashimpura mass murder case in 1987, in which 42 innocents were killed, was more or less the same. Although it was the Police Armed Constabulary (PAC) of Uttar Pradesh that committed the crime, not a single man was punished. Then the Delhi trial case also had expressed anguish over having had to acquit 16 accused. At that time too the judge had observed that because of the failure of the investigation agency and prosecuton to gather sufficient evidence and to catch the culprit, the crime of murder of many people was going unpunished. Then again, the authorities showed utter negligence in protecting evidence. Instead of preserving the rifle used for the murder, they even gave them back to PAC for further use. One of the two First Information Reports was destroyed. Eventually the case was thrown away to be lost without examining the witnesses and by ignoring the evidence.
It was not in these two cases alone that sufficient evidence was not produced and witnesses were made to defect or excluded. Beside all this is also the long delay in the investigation process and court proceedings. After Samjhauta blasts, the case dragged on for years. Four years later, NIA took over the case. And it took a total of 12 years from the incident for the verdict to be out. But placed against the 28 years taken by the Hashimpura case verdict to come out, Samjhauta case can be called 'fast track'. Such delay also helps destruction of evidence, reining in the witnesses and escape of the culprits. Urgent steps are needed to eliminate such failings that diminish the trust in the judiciary. Let the passionate plainspeaking by the Judge in the Samjhauta case verdict be a trigger for such remedial steps. And it would also be appropriate to have a judicial enquiry in the major instances where the prosecution deliverately lost its case.