Justice U U Lalit of the Supreme Court on Friday recused from hearing a petition filed by Social activist Harsh Mander seeking a fair trial into 2008 Malegaon blasts allegedly involving rightwing Hindu extremist groups.
Lalit, who was sitting with Justice M I Kalifulla said in open court that he cannot be part of the bench hearing the petition as he had earlier defended some accused in the blast. Mander in his public interest litigation referred to statement of Rohini Salian, the former Special Public Prosecutor in the case that she was under pressure from the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to go “soft” in the case
The plea referred to her interview with a newspaper and said the executive was attempting to influence the judicial system in breach of repeated directives by the court.
The PIL alleged that officials of the NIA had pressured Salian “to go soft on the accused presumably under instructions from their political masters”.
It sought a direction to the Centre to appoint a Special Public Prosecutor to conduct a fair trial and constitute a special investigating team of CBI to probe NIA officials who allegedly pressured Salian.
“If there is credible reason to fear that public prosecutors are made to succumb to the wishes of their political masters, it is submitted that public faith in the entire edifice on which the free, fair and transparent trial is based would crumble,” stated the petition.
The petition said unless the apex court steps in, the victims of the Malegaon blasts cannot expect justice in the current scenario due to the “brazen illegalities” allegedly committed by the government.
Salian had said that she had come under pressure from the NIA over the past one year, since “the new government came to power”. Salian is no longer on NIA’s panel of lawyers.
The Malegaon blast, on September 29, 2008, claimed four lives and injured 79 while another blast at the same time in Modasa in Gujarat killed one. Investigations in the case pointed to alleged Hindu extremists based in Indore, as first reported by The Indian Express on October 23, 2010.
Twelve people were arrested in the case, including Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit. Of the 12, four are on bail.
Citing the interview, the petition alleged that the Ministry of Home Affairs, which runs the NIA, has been trying to pressurise “an honest prosecutor to go soft” on the accused. It said there are reasons to fear that the executive is attempting to influence the judicial system to cave in to the pressure exerted by it in all matters, “including affording protection to right wing extremists who sympathise with its ideology.”
“That the factual conspectus afore-stated goes a long way in showing that the government of the day has tried to interfere with the functioning of special public prosecutor, treating the post as if it is under the Government in utter disregard to the principle laid down by this Court…,” said the PIL.