The Bombay High Court, while denying bail to former cop Pradeep Sharma in the Antilia bomb scare – Mansukh Hiran murder case, criticized the manner in which the NIA has so far conducted the investigation, observing that there are several unanswered questions in the case.
The division bench of Justice Revati Mohite Dere and Justice R. N. Laddha prima facie found that the NIA has not done investigation with regard to the co-conspirators involved in planting of gelatin sticks in the Scorpio vehicle near business tycoon Mukesh Ambani’s residence.
“It appears that the NIA, after a detailed investigation, had not charge-sheeted the appellant (Pradeep Sharma) for the offence pertaining to the Scorpio vehicle, which was laden with gelatin sticks. Prima facie, we feel that this feeble attempt was made to connect the appellant with Sachin Waze only when we questioned the NIA, as to with whom Sachin Waze had conspired with, in planting of gelatin sticks in the Scorpio vehicle,” the court observed.
The court further noted that there is no explanation for payment of Rs. five lakh by then Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh to one Ishaan Sinha, a cyber security expert. "Why such a huge payment was made to the said witness i.e. Cyber Expert, what was the interest of the CP, is a grey area, for which there are no answers," the court observed.
Sinha, in his statement to the NIA, said that he prepared a report at Singh's behest after he told Singh about a telegram channel called 'Jaish-ul-Hind' taking responsibility for the bomb scare. Sinha said that the original report was very short and did not contain the poster claiming responsibility for the incident that appeared in the Telegram channel. However, on Singh's instructions, he modified his report. Sinha claimed that he prepared the report in Singh's office and Singh insisted on paying him despite his refusal.
Singh is not an accused in the case. However, the court has questioned Sharma’s presence in Singh’s chamber in March 2021 as it is the NIA's case that Hiren's murder was planned within the Mumbai Police Commissionerate.
As per NIA’s charge sheet, Waze conspired with ‘others’ to plant gelatin sticks (explosives) in a vehicle outside Antilia. Sharma allegedly conspired with Waze and others to eliminate Hiren. However, Sharma was not accused of planting the gelatin sticks in the charge sheet.
The court noted that the charge sheet is silent about the Waze’s co-conspirators in planting explosives in the vehicle. Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh answered the question of co-conspirators only after it was put to him by the court.
The ASG told the court that Waze conspired with Sharma not only in the Mansukh Hiren murder but also in the planting of gelatin sticks and this vehicle. The court questioned why it has not been disclosed in the chargesheet.
“In a case of this magnitude, prima facie, it is highly impossible that Sachin Waze himself would be involved, without the help, assistance or may be, guidance of some others…We, prima facie, find that the NIA has not done investigation with regard to the same i.e. with respect to the co-conspirators involved in planting of gelatin sticks in the Scorpio vehicle,” the court said.
The prosecution alleged that on February 17, 2021, on Waze’s instructions, Hiren parked his Scorpio near a flyover in Vikhroli and then handed over the keys to Waze. After that, Waze had the number plate of the car changed and took the car to his residence. The ASG relied on Waze’s call records to support the prosecution’s case.
The court said that the call records prima facie do not reveal that Waze and Sharma where together either at Masjid Bandar or Mazgaon as contended by the ASG. Further, the court said that apart from the call records, which came out for the first time during the hearing, the prosecution has not shown that Waze and Sharma met on February 17, 2021.
The court was prima facie not satisfied by ASG’s explanation regarding the discrepancy between the NIA’s allegation and the call records. The court added that NIA did not produce any call records to show that any calls were exchanged between Waze and Sharma on that day.
NIA has not explained why Sharma allegedly went near the car parked by Hiren, the court said. The court further noted that it is not NIA’s case that Sharma was present near the Scorpio when Waze came to collect it.
When the court questioned who wrote and planted the threatening note in the vehicle, the ASG answered that it was done by Waze. However, the ASG answered in the negative when court asked him whether there were any documents to support this claim.
Case no. – Criminal Appeal No. 858 of 2022
Case Title – Pradeep Rameshwar Sharma v. National Investigating Agency and Anr.