The acquittal of Swami Aseemanand and three other accused in the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast case is bound to disappoint the family members of the victims. The court said the National Investigation Agency had failed to “establish any of the charges against the accused” in the blast in which 68 people, including 44 Pakistani citizens, died. This is the third high-profile case in which the NIA has failed to convict Aseemanand, whose real name is Naba Kumar Sarkar.
The other cases in which he was named are the Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif blast cases. In all of them the court rapped India’s premier terror investigating agency for having failed to do due diligence. A retired IPS officer of the Haryana Police had gone on record saying the cops had traced the bags that possibly contained the bombs used to trigger the Samjhauta Express blast. But the NIA, after it took over the probe from the Haryana Police, failed to take cognisance of that piece of evidence. In the Malegaon serial blasts case, the then special public prosecutor Rohini Salian had alleged in 2015 that the NIA had told her to go soft in the case. Salian was later dropped as the prosecutor.
The NIA, created a year after the 2008 Mumbai terror attack, prides itself on its professionalism. Early last year, it claimed its conviction rate since its inception was a whopping 95 per cent. It’s this reputation that is at stake, as court after court raps it on its knuckles for shoddy probe in a series of high profile cases. The acquittal in the Samjhauta case also brings into focus the problem of witnesses turning hostile. The case fell apart as many witnesses recanted during trial. The same happened in the Mecca Masjid and Ajmer Sharif cases, leading to Aseemanand’s acquittal.
In the Asaram Bapu rape case, three witnesses were killed and many others threatened by the godman’s henchmen. The SC has since approved a witness protection scheme and the Centre, states and union territories must ensure that it is enforced in letter and spirit.