Pointing to a “botched investigation” caused by “institutional failure”, a division bench of the Rajasthan High Court on Wednesday, March 29, acquitted all four men, earlier sentenced to death in 2019 in the 2008 Jaipur bomb blasts case that killed 71 people and injured 185. In its judgement (read below), the court clearly held that the investigation was “not fair” and observed that “nefarious means” were employed by investigating agencies. On May 13, 2008, nine bombs exploded in eight locations — all in Jaipur’s crowded old city — between 7.20 pm and 7.45 pm. The Indian Mujahideen, then a little-known organisation, claimed responsibility for the attack in an email sent a day later to media organisations. In 2019, the trial court, while convicting the four aforementioned people, had acquitted a fifth accused, Shahbaz Hussain, said his advocate Akhil Chaudhary. The High Court Wednesday also upheld Hussain’s acquittal by the trial court in 2019.
In this significant judgement, the court has specifically directed the Rajasthan Director General of Police (DGP) to act against the errant officers in the investigating team, listing out in detail a series of lapses by it — including “insufficient legal knowledge” and evidence that was not up to the mark. The DGP currently is Umesh Mishra.
Given that this was a case where a crime of a heinous nature had been committed, 71 persons losing their lives and 185 persons sustaining injuries, causing unrest in the lives of every citizen, not just in the city of Jaipur, but all across the country, “the Director General of Rajasthan Police to initiate appropriate Enquiry/Disciplinary Proceedings against the erring officers of the Investigating Team.” [Para 64(8)]
The Rajasthan High Court division bench consisted of Justices Pankaj Bhandari and Sameer Jain acquitted Mohammed Sarvar Azmi, Mohammed Saif, Saifurrehman Ansari and Mohammed Salman by setting aside a 2019 trial court order sentencing them to death. The court observed, explained that the court also ruled that Mohammed Salman was a juvenile at the time of the incident.
Local advocate Syed Saadat Ali, was part of the defence team headed by senior advocate Nitya Ramakrishnan also appeared for the four accused and others. Vibhor Jain, Shivam Sharma, Mayank Sapra and Trideep Pais are among the others who were part of the defence. A trial is currently going on in another case related to the blast, where a live bomb was found that year.
“It is apparent that the investigation was not fair and it appears that nefarious means were employed by the Investigating Agencies, material witnesses required to unfold the events were withheld and apparent manipulations and fabrications have been done during the investigation. We therefore deem it proper, in the interest of society, justice and morality, to direct the Director General of Police, Rajasthan, to initiate appropriate enquiry/disciplinary proceedings against the erring officers of the investigating team,” said the court in its judgement.
“For the reasons stated above, we hold that the Investigation Agency in the given case should be made responsible/accountable for their negligent, cursory and inefficient actions. In the given case, for the reasons stated above, in spite of the case being of heinous nature, 71 persons losing their lives and 185 persons sustaining injuries, causing unrest in the lives of every citizen, not just in the city of Jaipur, but all across the country, we deem it appropriate to direct the Director General of Rajasthan Police to initiate appropriate Enquiry/Disciplinary Proceedings against the erring officers of the Investigating Team,” the court added.
“This case is a classic example of institutional failure resulting in botched/flawed/shoddy investigation. We fear this isn’t the first case to suffer due to failure of investigation agencies and if things are allowed to continue the way they are, this certainly won’t be the last case in which administration of justice is affected due to shoddy investigation. Therefore, we direct the State, the Chief Secretary in particular, to look into the matter, which is in the larger public interest,” said the court in its judgement.
In its judgement, the court said the investigators lacked the required legal skills as they were not aware about the statutory prerequisites and mandatory requirements.
“They have approached this case in a callous manner i.e. unbecoming of the members of uniformed posts. The approach of the Investigation Agency was plagued by insufficient legal knowledge, lack of proper training and insufficient expertise of investigation procedure, especially on issues like cyber crimes and even basic issues like admissibility of evidence. The failure on the part of the Investigation Agency has frustrated the case of the prosecution and the evidence so recorded is not fulfilling the chain of evidence,” said the court in its judgement.
The Court decisively held that the “investigation was not fair and it appears that nefarious means were employed by the Investigating Agencies, material witnesses required to unfold the events were withheld and apparent manipulations and fabrications have been done during the investigation. We therefore deem it proper, in interest of society, justice and morality, to direct the Director General of Police, Rajasthan, to initiate appropriate enquiry/disciplinary proceedings against the erring officers of the investigating team. (Para 63)
Accountability in Investigation in police long overdue: Justice Sameer Jain
Justice Sameer Jain, went further with additional observations and directions:
Holding that that under Schedule-7 of List-II of the Constitution of India, the police is a subject governed by the State whose primary role is to provide security for the people, to investigate the crime, and to maintain law and order and therefore must be given operational freedom to carry out their role and responsibility”, Justice Jain held categorically that, “while discharging this important public duty, the police/investigation agency may be held publicly accountable for their poor performance. The police/investigation agency is expected to perform their duty in a very cautious, sincere, devoted, diligent manner in accordance with law as per the statutory mandate and in accordance with settled position of law. It is duty of the police/investigation agency to secure and record the complete evidence, to investigate in a sincere manner, to identify the culprits/accused, frame charges and assist the prosecution. However, in the instant case, the investigation agency has utterly failed to do so. [Para 64 (7)]
Therefore the court concluded that “the investigation was flawed, shoddy and there were lapses on the part of the investigation team (The Apex Court has time and again, more particularly in Gajoo Versus State of Uttarakhand: (2012) 9 SCC 532 and Dayal Singh and Ors. Versus State of Uttaranchal: (2012) 8 SCC 263, held that in criminal case of heinous nature, if the investigation is shoddy/flawed which resulted from a callous, lethargic and negligent approach adopted by investigation agencies, then it will be the duty of the Court to pass appropriate strictures and/or to give appropriate directions as the occurrence of crime is a breach of public right which affects the whole community and is harmful for the society in general)
Hence the Court held that “Investigation Agency in the given case should be made responsible/accountable for their negligent, cursory and inefficient actions.” [Para 64(8)]
Given that this was a case where a crime of a heinous nature had been committed, 71 persons losing their lives and 185 persons sustaining injuries, causing unrest in the lives of every citizen, not just in the city of Jaipur, but all across the country, “the Director General of Rajasthan Police to initiate appropriate Enquiry/Disciplinary Proceedings against the erring officers of the Investigating Team.”
The division bench also drew attention to the celebrated judgment of Prakash Singh and Ors. Vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors.: (2006) 8 SCC 1, in which the court had contemplated formation of a ‘Police Complaints Authority’ which has not been adequately constituted in the State of Rajasthan. This case is a classic example of institutional failure resulting in botched/flawed/shoddy investigation. [Para 64(8)]
“We fear this isn’t the first case to suffer due to failure of investigation agencies and if things are allowed to continue the way they are, this certainly won’t be the last case in which administration of justice is affected due to shoddy investigation. Therefore, we direct the State, the Chief Secretary in particular, to look into the matter, which is in the larger public interest. [Para 64(8)]
The first of the 2008 IED blasts took place near Manak Chowk. It was followed by blasts in and around Badi Chaupar, Johari Bazaar, the Sanganeri Gate Hanuman temple, Choti Chaupar, Tripolia Bazar, a police station and the Chandpole Hanuman temple. A live bomb was also found on a bicycle near a shop in front of the Chandpole Ramchandraji temple before being defused.
The court also questioned the credibility of identification parades conducted to identify the accused and highlighted anomalies in evidence such as bills of the cycles purchased.
“Before we conclude, we must place on record the fact that we are not unaware of the degree of agony and frustration that may be caused to the society in general and the families of the victims in particular by the fact that a heinous crime like this goes unpunished but, then law does not permit the Courts to punish the accused on the basis of moral conviction or on suspicion alone,” the court said in the judgement.
Findings in the High Court Judgement
The division bench of the Rajasthan High Court decided the appeals in favour of all convicts holding clearly that the trial court relied on “inadmissible, evidence, relied on relied upon inadmissible evidence, ignored material contradictions.” This is violation of The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 (for short “Evidence Act”); Information and Technology Act, 2000 (for short “I&T Act”) and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (for short “CrPC”),
Facts of the case
A series of explosions took place in the crowded market, places of the walled pink city of Jaipur on Tuesday, May 13, 2008 all within a short span of 20 minutes, resulting into death of 71 persons and injuries to 185 persons. In each of the blast sites, the bombs were planted on brand new bicycles, which were placed at carefully selected crowded market places near temples and police stations. In total eight FIRs were registered, four FIRs were registered at Police Station Kotwali and 4 FIRS were registered at Police Station Manak Chowk. 3. The present appeals pertain to FIR No. 131/2008, Police Station Manak Chowk. The author of the FIR was Om Prakash ASI, PS Manak Chowk, Jaipur. The place of incidence of blast in this FIR is near Maniharo ka khanda, Tripolia Bazaar, Jaipur. (Para 2)
On next day of the incident i.e. May 14, 2008, an email was received by TV Channels and News Agencies India TV and Aaj Tak by which Indian Mujaheedeen Organization took the responsibility (5 of 62) [CRLA-211/2022] of serial bomb blasts in Jaipur. Along with the Email, one video clip was also received, which pertained to bicycle and a bag on that bicycle. In the first part of the Email, there is a mention about the bicycle with frame No.129489, which was placed near Police Station Kotwali at Chhoti Chaupad. The bicycle with the same frame number was seized from the blast site near Police Station, Kotwali in a damaged condition in FIR No.117/2007.
Exactly 4 months after the Jaipur blasts i.e. on 13.09.2008, there were serial bomb blasts at 5 places in Delhi. On 19.9.2008, a Team of Delhi Police Special Cell raided a Batla House Flat in Jamia Nagar in South Delhi following a tip-off that terrorists allegedly involved in the Delhi serial bomb blasts were holed up there. In the operation, two terrorists, Chhota Sajid and Aatif Ameen were killed and one Police Officer, Inspector – Mohan Chand Sharma expired. Accused Mohammad Saif was arrested from the flat. On 02.10.2008 accused Mohammad Saif made a disclosure statement which was recorded by the Delhi Police. Saif admitted his active role in the Jaipur bomb blast case and also named 9 other accused and their direct involvement in planting the bombs at various places in Jaipur. In the disclosure statement, it was mentioned that all these 10 accused had come in groups on 11th May to do reconnaissance “Reki” of the places where they intended to plant bombs and returned on the same day by Ajmer Shatabdi Train. On 12th May, they made bombs at Batla House and on 13th May, they all came to Bikaner House and boarded a Volvo Bus in different groups and returned back on the same day in the evening by Ajmer Shatabdi Train in fake Hindu names. (Para 4)
“The accused-appellants were identified by the persons who sold them the cycles which were used by them to plant bombs in different places in Jaipur, namely Prakash Sain (PW – 117) has identified Md. Saif, Laxman Jhajhani (PW -115) has identified Sarvar Azmi, Lalit Lakhwani (PW-123) has identified Mohammad Saifurrehman & Rajesh Lakhwani (PW-139) has identified Mohd. Salman. After due investigation, charge-sheet was filed. The trial Court framed charges under Sections 120-B, 302, 307, 326, 324, 427, 121A, 124A, 153A of IPC, Section 3 of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984 read with Section 120-B IPC, Sections 3, 4, 5, 6 of Explosive Substances Act, 1908, Sections 3/10, 13, 18, 20, 38 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and Section 16(1)A or Section 16(1)A of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 read with Section 120-B of IPC. The accused denied the charges and sought trial, upon which, 156 witnesses, PW-1 to PW-156 were examined; documents ExhibitP1 to Exhibit-P312 were exhibited and Articles 1 to 60 were also exhibited on behalf of the prosecution. (Para 5)
The entire prosecution case is based on circumstantial evidence. A disclosure statement dated May 1, 2008 made by Mohammad Saif ostensibly stating that he along with his friend Azmi Azmi purchased the steel balls (in the name of one Rahul Sharma for a science project) from a cycle shop in Jama Masjid, Delhi for making bombs, which were used in bomb blasts in Jaipur. Witnesses who reportedly also identified the accused purchasing the steel balls and later cycles were also part of the prosecution. Thereafter it is the case of the prosecution that they returned to Delhi in Ajmer Shatabdi Train under fake Hindu names of Harsh Yadava, Rajhans, and Ajay Singh & Jitendra Singh. This is established from Reservation Chart of Coach No.C-3.
The prosecution through the Advocate General in the High Court also argued that accused Shahbaz Hussain, who was acquitted by the trial court, needed to be convicted and sentenced to death penalty since was the one who sent mail to India TV and Aaj Tak on 14.05.2008 wherein bicycle frame number was mentioned, thus he was aware of the blasts and was one of the conspirators (Para 15)
Case of the Prosecution
Additional Government Counsel Rekha Madnani, who appeared on behalf of the prosecution, said the state government will file a special leave petition in the Supreme Court against the acquittal. The accused have been protected for six months in this eventuality after they proffered a bail bond of Rs 50,000 each.
Basing its case of circumstantial evidence, the state and prosecution argues that it could not be a coincidence “that four persons came to Jaipur from Delhi along with four others under fake names; that these persons purchased cycles from Kishan Pole Bazar from different shops under the same fake names which they also used for their travel; that after planting bombs, these persons left for Delhi in the same Coach No.C-3 of Ajmer Shatabdi Train again under the same fake names Harsh Yadava, Rajhans, Ajay Singh & Jitendra Singh.” (Paras 6 – 15)
Besides, the fact that the bomb blasts took place within a short span, the fact that all the accused came by Volvo Bus in the morning and left by Shatabdi Train in the evening, the fact that some of the names in the chart of bus travel and in the chart of railway travel are matching with the name of the purchaser mentioned in the bill book, goes to show that the appellants travelled under fake Hindu names on May 13, 2008 purchased the cycles under fake Hindu names and left for Delhi after planting bombs in Jaipur on the same day.
It is contended that the trial Court has rightly convicted the accused appellants as they were involved in serial bomb blasts and their involvement in bomb blasts at different places is revealed from the evidence adduced in trial. (Paras 6 – 15)
Case of the Defence
The eight lawyers led by senior counsel Nitya Ramakrishnan who worked tirelessly in the defence case include Vibhor Jain, Shivam Sharma, Mayank Sapra, Seema Misra, Deeksha Dwivedi, Megha Bahl, Siddharth Satija, Rajat Kumar, Harsh Bora and Tusharika Mattoo. Trideep Paid and Project 39 were also involved. Advocates Ashwath Sitaraman and Ishit Patel were among the team.
The counsel for the accused led by renowned counsel, Ms. Nitya Ramakrishnan argued that prosecution has failed to establish as to who was the person, who planted the bomb near Maniharo ka khanda, Tripolia Bazaar, Jaipur. Besides, it was argued that the prosecution has failed to establish any meeting of minds prior to the bomb blasts so as to establish criminal conspiracy. It is further contended that the prosecution has not established beyond reasonable doubt the planting of cycles by the present appellants at different sites in Jaipur. (Para 16)
Further, the defence also contended that the prosecution has failed to establish that the appellants actually came to Jaipur on May 11, 2008 to do a ‘Reki’ and returned on the same day, prepared the bombs at Delhi on May 12, 2008 and has also failed to establish beyond reasonable doubt the traveling of accused from Delhi to Jaipur by bus and returning on the same day i.e. 13.05.2008 by Ajmer Shatabdi. Further, it was argued that in the present Sessions Case, there was no charge against the accused with regard to the planting of the bombs at different sites.
Notably, it was argued by the defence that no effort whatsoever was made by the prosecution to ascertain the identity of the persons, who had planted the bomb near at Maniharo ka khanda, Tripolia Bazaar, Jaipur. Even the photographs of the persons who as per the prosecution were killed in a separate incident, the Batla House Encounter were not shown to the sellers of cycles to establish that the cycles were purchased by them. (Para 16)
Loopholes in investigation and prosecution: Defence
Not only have the accused in this case, who had preferred an appeal against being awarded the death penalty been wrongly convicted by the trial court but the main accused in the case has not been apprehended by the police. There was no evidence led to establish that the un-identified accused who had (according to the prosecution) placed the bomb on the cycle near at Maniharo ka khanda, Tripolia Bazaar, Jaipur had any link with Saif, Saifoorrehman, Sarwar Azmi and Salman. It is contended that the case rests on circumstantial evidence. (Para 17). Significantly, the defence also argued that the prosecution had failed to establish that the accused were knowing each other or were having any connection with the SIMI, a banned Organization (Para 21).
The only source of evidence are the disclosure statements made by Saif, Saifoorrehman, Sarwar Azmi and Salman, made in police custody. It is also contended that all the above disclosure statements were made in the police custody. No statement was ever recorded under Section 164 of Cr.P.C. before the Magistrate and no fact was discovered from the disclosure statements made by the appellants. The flaw here, according to the defence is that there was no discovery of fact in the disclosure statement since the site of the bomb blasts and the shops from which cycles were purchased, were already in the knowledge of the police and therefore, there was no discovery of fact. No material evidence was placed before the court (Paras 18-19)
The only circumstantial evidence was the test identification parade, that, the defence argued was conducted after a lapse of (12 of 62) [CRLA-211/2022] many months and was not conducted in accordance with Rajasthan Police Rules with the investigating officer being present at the time, affecting its credibility. No specific features of the persons, who purchased the cycles, was given to the Police nor was it stated in the evidence before the Court. Lapses in investigation included the non-examination by the prosecution who had made inquiries about the shops where the cycles were allegedly sold; discrepancies in the sale date also emerged in the prosecution case and the bill books of the sale show discrepancies with the frame numbers of the cycles; (Para 19).
Further, argued the defence, the link between the appellant accused has not been established. Material witnesses such as Rajendra Singh Nain who had investigated the matter initially with regard to the shops from where cycles were sold, the Railway Traveling Ticket Examiner, owner or waiters of Kareem hotel where as per the prosecution version, accused had taken lunch before purchasing the cycle and planting the bombs, employees of Aaj Tak and India TV –all of these — were simply not examined. Neither was A.K. Jain, Police Official, who had received the email was also not examined as witness by the prosecution. Therefore, the failure to produce him leads to an adverse inference against the prosecution (Para 21) several other loopholes were pointed out by the defence.