Two of the accused in the Samjhauta blasts case, Lokesh Sharma and Kamal Chauhan, who allegedly planted bombs on the Lahore-bound train in 2007, on Monday petitioned for being provided with statements of "protected" witnesses.
"Protected" witnesses are those whose life could be in danger if their identity is disclosed. Importantly, copies of the statements mention witnesses' addresses.
The National Investigating Agency (NIA) had filed a supplementary chargesheet on August 9, declaring that Sharma and Chauhan, along with Amit and Rajender 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 February 18, 2007, two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) out of four had gone off on Samjhauta Express near Dewana railway station in Panipat (Haryana), killing 68 passengers, most of them Pakistanis.
Sharma, through his counsel Ajay Kaushik, 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 as "protected".
He said, "…the investigating agency has under a self-assumed and self-assessed authority mentioned witnesses No 219 to 247 as protected." He added that the power to declare witnesses as "protected' lay with the court, not the NIA, under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the NIA Act.
Kamal Chauhan's counsel Naveen Kaushik also moved a similar application for procuring statements of the "protected" witnesses.
In the first chargesheet, submitted on June 20, 2011, the NIA had provided copies of statements of all witnesses to the accused. But with the supplementary chargesheet, the agency provided statements in a sealed cover to the court, not to the accused.
The NIA, through its counsels RK Handa and Rajan Malhotra, on Monday moved an application for declaring accused Rajendar Chaudhary as a proclaimed offender (PO). The NIA court of additional district and sessions judge Kanchan Mahi issued orders for initiation of the process to declare him a PO. If Chaudhary does not surrender by October 4, he would be declared a PO.