The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad had first probed the blast which took place on September 29, 2008, killing six and injuring 101. Courtesy: Express Archive

Nisar Ahmed Sayyed Bilal, whose son Sayyed Azhar died in the 2008 Malegaon blast, filed a plea before a special court on Monday, seeking directions to the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) to assist the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the ongoing trial. Bilal, who is an intervener in the trial, has said in his plea that the ATS has not been present during the trial proceedings to assist NIA’s special public prosecutor (SPP) despite having conducted the initial probe.

The ATS has not been present during the trial proceedings while ATS witness statements are being recorded by this court. It is unfortunate that the investigating agency that recorded material statements and drew panchnamas against the present accused is not interested in the trial proceedings without any cogent reasons the application filed by Bilal through lawyer Shahid Nadeem states.

So far, over 100 witnesses have deposed in the case, including witnesses whose statements were recorded by the ATS.

The ATS had first probed the blast which took place on September 29, 2008, killing six and injuring 101. The probe led by then ATS chief Hemant Karkare pointed towards Pragya Singh Thakur, as one of the “principal conspirators” and claimed that others, including Lt Col Prasad Purohit and Major (retd) Ramesh Upadhyay, were also involved in the conspiracy. In 2011, the NIA took over the probe and filed its supplementary chargesheet on May 13, 2016, giving a clean chit to Thakur and claiming that the ATS probe was filled with “lacunae” and was “dubious”. The court, however, considered the probe conducted by both the NIA and ATS in refusing to discharge Thakur. She, along with six others, is currently facing trial based on evidence collected by both the ATS and NIA.

The NIA and ATS must work in symphony for a fair prosecution. Instances such as tracing documents and witnesses have been a herculean task and without the assistance of ATS officers, it becomes even more difficult to deal with such instances, often leading to delays and adjournments,” the plea states.

In June 2016, Bilal had filed another application seeking that a notice be sent to the ATS so that it can be given an opportunity to be heard, considering the difference in their probes. The court, however, rejected the plea stating that if the ATS feels aggrieved by the observations made by the NIA against it, it can take appropriate steps “permissible in law”. The ATS, however, has so far not filed any plea before any court.

Bilal’s application says that on July 31, 2016, the NIA SPP had sought directions from the court to the ATS to depute officials to instruct him and to attend the court proceedings. The court had said the SPP is “entitled to write letter to high authority” (sic), the application states. “It was submitted by the SPP that ATS officers are better equipped to instruct him about the investigation… Since more than two years, SPP of NIA alone attends this court without any help of ATS,” the plea states.

It further says that the prosecution witnesses expected to depose are important ones and for a fair and just trial, it is pertinent that the ATS officers/prosecution remain present to assist the NIA so that the prosecution puts the “best case and evidence” forward. The court has directed the NIA to file its reply on the application on May 20. SPP Avinash Rasal has been representing both the NIA and the ATS in the trial since 2015.