It is rare to find someone as gutsy and irrepressible as Rohini Salian, Maharashtra special public prosecutor, who claims the NIA asked her to go soft in the 2006 Malegaon case
By Shantanu Guha Ray
Rohini Salian knows she is in the hot seat, literally. The Maha-rashtra special public prosecutor, who alle-ged that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had asked her to go soft in the 2006 Malegaon blast case, says she will stand firm and seek Supreme Court’s help if the situation turns worse.
“I have immense faith in the judiciary,” says Salian, adding she could look like the “last woman standing on the deck” but she did give her statement a lot of thought. “I know the NIA has denied my statement, but it means nothing to me,” said Salian in an exclusive interview to India Legal telephonically. After all, she is a criminal lawyer who wouldn’t make allegations without evidence.
Salian says it is not important for the country, or for that matter, the media to know as to who came from the NIA to make that “outrageous offer” to go soft in the case. But what worries her is that if the NIA could get into something like this, what hope is there for victims from the organization.
She says that last year when the NIA investigator met her, she played ball with him and told him nothing. Instead, she waited for more evidence to land in her lap and eventually made the sensational announcement. “If I had talked right after the meeting, it would have been disastrous. I would not have been able to collect the evidence. But I have managed it now, it is (the evidence) safe with me and I would walk the last mile to ensure justice for those wrongly framed.
“I will fight, I am a fighter. A fighter always wins,” Salian says. She says she borrowed the lines from an advertisement campaign done by scriptwriter Javed Akhtar some years ago.
What does Salian want from the NIA? She wants discharge of the nine Muslims who were arrested and charge-sheeted by the Maharashtra Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for the Malegaon blast.
EMBARRASSMENT TO NDA
Her accusations are very serious and have caused embarrassment to the NDA government as they cast a shadow over other “Hindu terror” cases handled by the NIA. Besides the 2006 Malegaon blasts case, these include the Samjhauta case, the Mecca Masjid blast case in Hyderabad and Ajmer Sharif blast, all in 2007, and the Modasa blast in 2008.
Salian knows she has stirred a hornet’s nest, accusing the all-powerful NIA. But she is not bothered.
Salian said in the 2006 Malegaon case, she wanted discharge of the nine arrested because of specific reasons. “Let me make it clear that the court asked me to justify if there were two sets of accused, both distinct and with no connection between them. I simply asked the NIA to allow me to exercise the powers given to the prosecutor (under Sec-tion 321 of the CrPC) to try and convince the court that some error had crept in on the part of one of the investigating agencies that must be rectified by the court.
“This was not all. I had suggested that they give it to me in writing that I be allowed to make a discharge application. I had not promised anything, but told them I would try my best.
“But the NIA got upset, extremely upset with me. Some of the officers in NIA—I was surprised—accepted my demand and I was happy. But then, everything was put on the backburner and there was no response to my suggestion. They just filed a charge-sheet against four new accused. After that, I said I don’t want to appear in the matter,” she said.
The NIA has not made a single statement except denying Salian’s charges and has not responded to repeated letters written by her.
In private conversations, NIA sources have claimed that the case was one needing “further investigation” and was not a “re-investigation”, and that the initial probe conducted by Maharashtra ATS and the CBI should not be wiped out. “We simply cannot discard the previous charge-sheet as they have been placed before the court. It is for the court to decide who to discharge,” sources said.
Meanwhile, the special NIA court in Mumbai has issued notices to the NIA, Maharashtra ATS and the CBI to adduce evidence regarding their charge-sheets, before taking a call on how to push the case further.
But the situation has also turned grim. Witnesses have turned hostile in two other blast cases—15 in the Ajmer Dargah case and three in the Samjhauta Express case. In a third case, the 2008 Modasa explosion, a closure report has been filed.
Salian says it important for everyone to dissect the case she is fighting. It was on September 8, 2006, that four bomb explosions rocked Malegaon, killing 31 and injuring 312. Nine Muslim youth were arrested by the Maharashtra ATS for their alleged involvement in the blasts.
On December 21, 2006, the ATS filed a charge-sheet in the special MCOCA court against the nine accused and four others
on the run.
Muslim groups across India raised a hue and cry, alleging high-handedness by the Maha-rashtra ATS. Eventually, the CBI took over the case in July 2007. In its initial investigation, the CBI backed the ATS stand and filed a charge-sheet against the same accused on February 11, 2010. Eventually, the case was handed to the NIA on April 6, 2011.
What is important, claims Salian, is this: Before the case was handed over to the NIA, Swami Aseemanand was said to have made a confession in the Mecca Masjid blast case that accused Sunil Joshi had told him that the Malegaon blasts were actually the handiwork of his boys.
In his statement, Aseem-anand said a meeting was held at the residence of Bharat Rateshwar in Valsad in June 2006, during which he (Aseemanand) suggested that Malegaon, where 86 per cent of the population is Muslim, may be chosen first for a bomb blast.
“Note this. You must understand what I am saying, and where I am coming from,” explains Salian. “During the NIA probe, all nine accused retracted their confessions, alleging these were secured under duress.” This, in itself, is a serious charge and flies in the face of investigations done by both the ATS and the CBI.
Salian continues. On May 22, 2013, the NIA filed a supplementary charge-sheet against four accused—Sunil Joshi, Ramchandra Kalsangra, Ramesh Venkat Mahalkar and Sandeep Dange—before the NIA special court in Mumbai. Subsequently, the nine Muslims who were accused and charge-sheeted by the ATS and the CBI, moved court for bail. It was granted without opposition from the NIA.
And then, Salian says, she started getting feelers from the NIA to go soft on the cases. Salian protested, went public and is now waiting for NIA’s next move.
What makes her charges serious is that, she says, she started getting feelers only after the BJP-led NDA came to power last year. “It seemed to me someone wanted me to turn the case upside down. I felt I must expose this rot,” says Salian.
But ever since she raised the issue, Salian has been flooded with calls and messages. The list includes Congress leaders, lawyers, doctors, Muslim leaders, intellectuals, journalists and activists. She has not responded.
Salian only remembers how, in the last stages of the Malegaon probe by the NIA, the officers presented to the judge an opinion sheet along with the charge-sheet. The opinion sheet said the first lot was wrongly arrested.
Salian was shocked, she went through the entire charge-sheet. It was false. She knew someone was pushing untruth against truth. And it was then that someone from the NIA came calling, urging her to go soft so that the Hindu terrorists could be released on bail.
Salian argued back and made the NIA offer public.
In private conversations, she tells her family members about her nationalist colors. She tells them why 1947, the year of her birth, is important for her, and those who believe in an independent, united India. Salian calls them un-influenceable. She does not mind even if there is no word like that in the