The 10-room office of the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) Special Task Force (STF), opposite Mantralaya, is an organised mess.
Over three tonnes of documents — crucial to the 1993 serial blasts case — are strewn across the bungalow; seven huge cupboards are stacked with other documents that are more sensitive and two large photocopying machines eat into the limited office space.
And as the curtain comes down on the serial blasts case (only six more accused are to face the verdict), the STF can sit back and take pride in a job well done. For 13 years, the STF team lived the blasts case and have managed to get 94 of the 117 accused convicted by building a watertight case. This was by no means an easy task. Consider this. When the CBI took over the case from the Mumbai police in November 1993, more than 3,000 witnesses were earmarked for questioning.
The list was cut down to a mere 686 witnesses so that a firm case could be presented before the special TADA court. All the cases were scrutinised for six months before the names of some of the witnesses were deleted. “This prevented wastage of time and duplication of work,” said a CBI officer.
An estimated 90,000 man-hours were spent preparing sets of papers related to the case. The task force made several trips across the country to arrest 29 of the 44 accused before presenting them in court.
"But," says Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Raman Tyagi, “we neither rejoice nor mourn the passing of the case. We have done a job and done it well. Now, let the people decide.”
While Tyagi is planning to take a much-deserved holiday, his colleague DSP D.K. Pardesi is already on leave. Over 20 other officers — including inspector K.S. Prasad, on deputation from the Mizoram police who may have already forgotten his days in the northeast — have had unusually long stints with the agency.
Each one of them was indispensable in piecing together the jigsaw puzzle of the serial blasts. And for good reason. The 1993 serial blasts case has had the longest trial ever in India and the agency needed every one of them to put in their best and bring their knowledge of the case to a conclusive end.
Chief Public Prosecutor Ujwal Nikam thinks the CBI team is a dedicated lot. “They were trying something very new and have done a great job. They have proved their mettle while investigating Abu Salem,” says Nikam. “The continuity in work helped. Besides, the human touch also stood us in good stead in getting confessions from the accused,” says deputy inspector General O.P. Chatwal.
He said extradition of gangsters and bomb blast accused Abu Salem was a case in point. “It took the team more than three years to pursue the case in almost all courts in Europe before the accused was handed over by the Portuguese government,” says Chatwal.
Today, the officers can hang up their boots. “But, there is so much more terrorism in the country now than there was in 1993 that no one will say 'No' when duty calls," says a senior officer.
Email J Dey: firstname.lastname@example.org