ON February 19, 2007, two coaches of the Samjhauta Express caught fire near Panipat, killing those who were on board the two bogies of the train that provides one of the few links between India and Pakistan. A total of 68 persons were killed — 58 Pakistanis and 10 Indian nationals. The NIA, which was entrusted with the investigation, filed a charge sheet in 2013, contending that two improvised explosive devices had gone off. It accused eight men of the ‘dreadful terrorist act’. It could not secure the conviction of even one of those it accused of committing the terrorist act.
The NIA charged eight persons ‘angry with attacks on Hindu temples by jihadi terrorist activities’. Of them, the most prominent was Swami Aseemanand, who has, in recent years, been acquitted in the Ajmer Dargah and Mecca Masjid blast cases. One of the accused in the Samjhauta Express case was killed in December 2007. Three have been untraceable, and the rest were acquitted. The NIA’s failure to carry its case in court against the accused is galling. The agency should have relied more on forensic evidence than confessional statements of the accused, which were later retracted on the grounds that they were extracted under duress.
While both the investigation and later the trial were hampered by the transnational aspect of the crime, with most of the victims and even eye-witnesses being Pakistani, we now have a distressing situation. ‘No one knows who killed the 68 victims,’ as an Opposition leader put it. The acquittal of all the accused has already been criticised by our neighbour who keeps on pushing terrorists into Indian soil. The blast was a terrorist act that took Indian and Pakistani lives. The victims deserve closure, which can only come about when culprits are brought to book. The NIA failed in its duty to present a case that would stand up to judicial scrutiny. Even as the NIA considers appealing against the trial court verdict, it must ensure that the victims get the justice they deserve, and those who perpetuated this terrorist act pay for their crime.
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