Forty days after the triple blasts in Mumbai on July 13 that left 26 people dead, the Centre is considering handing over the probe to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) as the anti-terror squad (ATS) of the Maharashtra police has slipped after showing promise initially.
Government sources close to the development said that early this month (around August 5), ATS chief Rakesh Maria flew to New Delhi to brief Union home minister P Chidambaram on how his team was on the verge of a breakthrough. The ATS chief reportedly said the man who had stolen the silver Honda Activa scooter apparently used in the Opera House blast had been identified and through him the planter of the bomb could be apprehended. The scooter thief identified as Bhima, a road-side mechanic at Opera House, and another mechanic, Raj, were detained for questioning.
However, the trail has now gone cold again. Bhima and Raj were set free around August 13 by the investigators as both denied, under sustained interrogation, any role in the Mumbai serial blasts. So, it's back to square one for the investigators.
The lead was considered crucial as the forensic laboratory used by the elite National Security Guard, which had been called in soon after the blasts, had suggested the Opera House bomb had been planted in the scooter. The scooter belonged to Jayant D Shah, a hardware dealer living in South Mumbai, who had loaned it to his employee Arjun Choudhary on July 8 and gone to Ahmedabad. On July 15, Arjun Choudhary had filed an FIR with the local police station stating his scooter had been stolen on July 12, a day before the blasts. After both Jayant and Arjun gave their statements, the ATS went after the scooter thief.
Adding to the investigators' problems is the poor quality of the footage from the CCTV cameras at Opera House on the day of the blast. The blurred images show a suspect moving about at the spot for some three minutes before vanishing, leaving behind a bag. But even technical help from British experts has not helped in clearing the picture.