The National Investigation Agency probing the 2007 Ajmer blasts has suffered a serious setback with 24 witnesses turning hostile over the past year, jeopardising the trial of alleged Hindu extremists in the case that will be heard on Thursday.
The testimonies of many of these witnesses were crucial to the case and had helped investigators piece together the conspiracy in the run up to the October 11 blasts – including how explosives were procured and transported to the shrine of Sufi saint Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer, triggering blasts that killed three people.
But now, the witnesses have said their statements to the anti-terrorism squad (ATS) and magistrates were given under duress.
The probe agency has, so far, filed four charge sheets against 15 accused. Four accused are absconding. Out of the 132 witnesses listed in these charge sheets, 110 have recorded their statements in court.
This is not the first such instance as cases of alleged saffron terror have gone down the same route earlier, including those pertaining to blasts in Malegaon (September 2006 and September 2008), the Samjhauta Express (February 2007) and the Mecca Masjid (May 2007).
Prominent among those turning hostile is Jharkhand agriculture minister Randhir Singh, who in May denied making an earlier statement about meeting blast mastermind Devendra Gupta in 2006. The minister had also said another accused Sunil Joshi had accompanied him and a RSS member to a village in his car but said all statements were made under ATS pressure.
Singh became a minister in the Raghubar Das government in February after he defected from Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik).
Similarly, witness Govardhan Singh had said in the magistrate court that accused Sandeep Dange had given him the SIM later used in the blast but retracted his statement later.
HT had reported in July that 13 witnesses had already reversed their statements in court with assistant public prosecutor Ashwini Sharma saying the case would be difficult to prove if three or four more witnesses turned hostile.
The Opposition has repeatedly accused the NDA government of trying to shield the alleged perpetrators in Hindu terror cases.
In September last year, the NDA government refused to allow the NIA to challenge an order of the high court of Andhra Pradesh granting bail to two accused, Devendra Gupta and Lokesh Sharma, in the Mecca Masjid case.
Prime accused Swami Aseemanad got bail from the Punjab and Haryana high court in the Samjhauta Express blasts case but the NIA is yet to challenge the order in the Supreme Court.
Former NIA prosecutor in the 2008 Malegaon blast case Rohini Salian had alleged after the NDA came to power, an officer of the agency asked to ‘go soft’ on accused persons.