On December 30, 1997, a blast took place inside a bus at Rampura bus stand near Punjabi Bagh police station in West Delhi. Four died, 24 others were injured.
Three months later, Mohammad Hussain was arrested in a different case, when he reportedly confessed his complicity in the blast. Hussain and three co-accused were charged with criminal conspiracy, murder, attempt to murder and sections of Explosive Substances Act under the Indian Penal Code.
A year later, the Sessions court convicted Hussain while acquitting all others. His death sentence came six years later, in November 2004 and was upheld by the High Court in 2006.
Hussain approached the Supreme Court in 2012 which ordered a fresh trial from the stage of prosecution evidence. As the trial was repeated, flaws in investigation and procedural lapses came tumbling out, making it all too clear that Hussain was implicated in a false case.
After spending 15 years in jail, Hussain was acquitted of all charges in January 2013.
Hussain’s case is part of the eight new cases that feature in the second edition of the report Framed, Damned, Acquitted – Dossiers of a very ‘Special’ Cell prepared by the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association that set to be released this week.
The report compiles trial records and court documents of cases relating to young men who were picked up by the Special Cell – Delhi Police’s elite investigating agency. These men were often tortured in custody, incarcerated in jail for years, if not decades, and eventually released by courts for lack of evidence. All except one man framed in these cases are Muslim youth; the majority of them are from Kashmir.
Though these cases – the previous 16 from first edition of the report and the eight new ones – occurred at different times, most follow the same pattern of how the so-called terrorists were nabbed, cases were solved and how the prosecution stories fell apart.
Lack of independent witnesses
Often, the courts noted, efforts to enlist any independent witnesses were omitted deliberately by police. In many cases, the accused were nabbed at railway or metro stations. However, no officials from either Indian Railways or Delhi Metro Rail Corporation were attached in the operation.
When one does find public witnesses, it is often noted to be a farce – in a number of cases, public witnesses have confessed in cross-examinations that they were made to “sign blank sheets of paper”.
In several cases, when raids were carried out in Jammu & Kashmir, state police officers were not made part of investigations or witnesses.
No diary entries and recovery memos
The absence of Daily Diary entries in police records, the constant fudging of dates of arrest and other developments to suit the prosecution story and the absence of documented evidence such as rent receipts and railway tickets have also been important giveaways.
Missing call detail records
In many of these cases, the courts noted that details of phone call records could either not be produced or did not correspond with the claims of the police. For instance, in the case of a man named Radoo, who was arrested in 2006 from Delhi’s Azadpur Mandi and accused of being a Jaish-e-Mohammad operative, no record of mobile phone usage was found during the period during which he was put under technical surveillance.
More than once, contradictory statements from police officers and witnesses have exposed fabricated prosecution stories. In some cases, witnesses have later come forward to confess that they were never part of the investigation and were made to sign blank pieces of paper by police.
For instance, in the case of Mohammad Hussain, who was arrested for the 1997 bus stand blast, the Special Cell had relied on these claims:
* The bus conductor, Darshan Kumar had seen Hussain boarding the bus from Delhi’s Paharganj stand carrying a rexine bag. He had reportedly purchased a ticket to Nangloi and occupied the third seat from rear.
* When the conductor enquired why he was getting down at Karol Bagh midway, Hussain responded that he had remembered some urgent work. When he got off the bus, he did not have the rexine bag in his hand. The prosecution argued that the bomb he planted in the bus was inside this rexine bag.
* The bomb had exploded underneath the seat he had occupied.
* The prosecution claimed explosives were recovered from his rented accommodation on the first floor of Maulana hotel in Lajpat Nagar.
* Hussain had confessed to his crime in his disclosure statement and also led police to the shop of Surjeet Singh from where he had bought sulphuric acid. Singh had also reportedly identified Hussain. Further, A Dey, Principal Scientific Officer at the Central Forensic Science Laboratory, deposed that the bomb was made of sulphuric acid. Thus, it was presumed that Hussain was behind the blast.
The prosecution claimed that Hussain was a Pakistani national who could not give any reasonable explanation for his presence in India.
However, the court found several discrepancies during the fresh trial. For example, despite having such convincing information about the suspect, the bus conductor did not mention it to anybody – the driver, police officers, physicians at Deen Dayal Upadhyay hospital where he was taken for treatment or his family. He did not even mention it to the sub-inspector who recorded his statement on the day of the blast.
While Darshan Kumar claimed his statement was recorded on the day of the blast at 9.45 pm in DDU hospital, the sub inspector said he had recorded it the next day at 11 am. He claimed that he had been at the blast site till midnight on December 30 and could visit the hospital only on December 31 to record the conductor’s statements. A further contradiction arose when the Additional Station House Officer, Inspector Raj Kumar, deposed that the sub-inspector was present in DDU hospital at 9 pm on the day of the blast.
The sub-inspector failed to recognise the handwriting on Darshan Kumar’s statement which he had supposedly recorded.
Though Darshan Kumar had disclosed such vital information, no sketches of the suspect were made; he was not shown any terrorist dossiers. The passengers who boarded the bus at Paharganj, those who sat around Hussain in the bus or alighted with him in Karol Bagh were never asked to describe his appearance.
Deposing in court, Darshan Kumar said the accused was carrying a gunny bag – a change from his earlier statement that the suspect had been carrying a rexine bag. This seemed to have been an attempt to fill lacunae in the prosecution story as there was no residue or particles of a rexine bag at the blast site.
Moreover, Darshan Kumar had maintained that Hussain had boarded at the Paharganj bus stand and occupied a seat. However, fellow passenger Rajesh who became a public witness said the bus was already full when it started from Ajmeri Gate and a few passengers were standing. Thus, there was no room to sit.
Since the bus was already crammed when it reached the Paharganj dispensary stand, it would have been impossible that the conductor could have taken note of Hussain’s behaviour.
The prosecution claimed that Hussain had planted a time-bomb that could be controlled through a remote control or timer; but Dey of the the Central Forensic Science Laboratory categorically stated that the bomb in question could not be operated by either.
In the fresh trial, shop owner Surjeet Singh admitted that police had never brought Hussain to his shop for identification. Moreover, the owner of Maulana ka Hotel, above which Hussain was supposedly staying with 12-13 tenants, did not identify Hussain in court and alleged that he had been asked to sign a blank paper. The police never tried to get the accused identified by his co-tenants and neighbours; nor was there any documentary evidence of his tenancy, such as a rent receipt.
Pointing out “substantial lapses” in the investigation, the court said that the investigating agency had tried to project they had cracked the case in just 24 hours between 8.30 pm on March 8 and 9, 1998. In an acerbic remark, the judge added, “If our investigators are so efficient as to crack down…blast cases within a few hours, where is the need for scientific investigation. Similarly, where is the need to modernise the agency.”
The court noted that no photographs were taken of inside the bus nor was a site plan made. A major procedural lapse was noted when the investigators used unnumbered and unstamped case diaries.
The members of the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association say that they are “only bringing forth what courts are saying – and asking some hard questions of the investigating agency”. Will there be any accounting for the years these young men lost, they ask. “For the humiliation and indignities suffered? For the torture and illegal detention? If justice is to truly prevail, those responsible must certainly be held accountable.”