The National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Thursday opposed providing copies of statements of 29 witnesses to Lokesh Sharma and Kamal Chauhan, accused of planting bombs on the Lahore-bound Samjhauta Express, before the special NIA court, Panchkula.
The NIA submitted through counsels RK Handa and Rajan Malhotra, "The safety and security of witnesses are of utmost importance as the accused, using inducement, threat, promise etc., can endanger the safety and security of witnesses and their families. Also, other co-accused, namely Ramachander Kalsangra, Sandeep Dange, Amit, alias Hakla, and Rajender Chaudhary, alias Samunder, who are presently absconding, may threaten witnesses for not deposing before the court."
On February 18, 2007, two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) out of four had gone off on the Samjhauta train near Dewana railway station in Panipat (Haryana), killing 68 passengers, most of them Pakistanis.
The NIA had filed a supplementary chargesheet on August 9, declaring that Sharma and Chauhan, along with Amit and Chaudhary, planted four bombs on the train. In the chargesheet, the NIA listed 29 witnesses, declaring them "protected", whose names and addresses were not mentioned. Copies of their statements were also not provided to the accused.
On September 3, the court of special NIA judge Kanchan Mahi directed the NIA to supply the statements to the accused on or before September 17.
But when copies of the statements were not supplied on September 17, a cost of Rs 200 was imposed on the NIA.
Ajay Kaushik, counsel of Lokesh Sharma, had submitted that the investigating officer had to supply copies of statements of witnesses who were intended to be examined during the trial so that the accused could cross-examine them and "establish such defence as he desired to be put up and also to shake their testimony". He also questioned the NIA's authority to declare 29 witnesses "protected".
The next date of hearing in the case is November 5.
In the first chargesheet, submitted on June 20, 2011, the NIA had provided copies of statements of all witnesses to the accused.