By Abhishek Jha:
The serial train blasts of July 11, 2006 on Mumbai local trains left about 200 people dead and several hundred injured. Nine years after the blasts, an MCOCA special court sentenced five people to death and seven to life imprisonment on Wednesday. However, the sentence has “brought no closure for some grieving families,” a report in the Indian Express says. “He wanted the guilty to be hanged to death. But now after his death, even death penalty doesn’t mean anything. Can the government bring back my husband by hanging those five men?” Devyani Dalvi told the newspaper lamenting the loss of her husband who died this year after suffering ailments resulting from the blast.
The Law Commission of India had submitted a report earlier this year arguing for the abolition of death penalty in all cases except terrorism. One of the arguments it had made was that “focusing on death penalty as the ultimate measure of justice to victims, the restorative and rehabilitative aspects of justice are lost sight of.
“Reliance on the death penalty diverts attention from other problems ailing the criminal justice system such as poor investigation, crime prevention and rights of victims of crime,” it further adds. It appears that there are indeed some doubts regarding the investigation and prosecution that led to the death sentence. Indian Express on Thursday also carried another piece alongside the news of the sentencing, where it claims possession of classified documents that show that investigations by the police of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and Delhi indicate that the 2006 blasts may have been carried out by a separate group of Indian Mujahideen (IM) operatives.
At the centre of these documents is Sadiq Israr Sheikh, an alleged IM operative, who had claimed in a custodial questioning by Gujarat Police that it was he who had planted the bomb along with other IM members. Rakesh Maria, the then head of the Crime Branch, had also filed a chargesheet against the IM. However, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) has maintained – ever since the confession was made public in 2009 – that it was the convicted SIMI members who were responsible for the blasts. The Express report also quotes a retired Intelligence Bureau official as saying that “the highest levels of the Union government were made aware of the new evidence in 2008” and that “the consensus appeared to be” to “not rock the boat”.
The doubts regarding the investigation also question the usefulness of a controversial piece of legislation: the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act. The legislation’s existence has been touted as a precedent for getting a similar law passed in Gujarat. GCTOC was recently sent for the President’s assent after the Union Home Ministry approved it. However, it is to be noted that it is laws like these, in the absence of police reforms, that promote questionable investigation. For instance, following Sheikh’s revelations to Gujarat and Delhi police, Maharashtra ATS recorded Sheikh’s confession before a magistrate, but the Sewri apartment where he claimed to have assembled the explosives was never made part of any forensic tests. The Indian Express report also cites information available with the Andhra Pradesh counter-intelligence cell regarding an apartment at Deccan Cooperative Society in Mumabi’s Sewri Area.
It is surprising then that despite the Law Commission recommending immediate reforms for the police, governments are arguing for draconian laws and capital punishment instead of strengthening the executive. IM may or may not have a hand in the blasts but not ascertaining its non-involvement, not carrying out a thorough investigation are bad signs for the justice system.