In a significant development, the judge of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) Special Court, Ravinder Reddy, resigned from his post soon after acquitting all the accused in the Mecca Masjid blasts in Hyderabad on Monday.
While the motive for the sudden resignation is unclear, Reddy reportedly cited personal reasons. His letter was sent to the Chief Justice of the Hyderabad High Court.
The NIA court held that none of the charges framed against the accused, including Swamy Aseemanand, had been proved.
Right-wing Hindu activists Nabakumar Sarkar alias Swamy Aseemanand, Devender Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai and Rajender Chowdhary, against whom the charges were framed, were all acquitted.
The resignation after acquitting the five accused, citing lack of substantial evidence, has floated rumours that the judge was under significant pressure to free the accused, who belong to Abhinav Bharat, an extremist organisation allegedly involved in the Malegaon and Ajmer blasts.
Many also pointed out to the abrupt removal of Prathiba Ambedkar, the investigating officer of the case. She was transferred two weeks before the verdict was pronounced.
AIMIM chief and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi said that the judge’s decision was ‘intriguing’ and ‘surprising’.
“I am surprised with the Lordship decision. I can’t sit here and speculate, but only the person resigning can talk about the reason,” he said.
“I don’t want to question a judgement because you can’t question a judge on his decision taken based on the available evidence. I blame the NIA and the Centre for going soft on a sensitive case,” he added.
Swamy Aseemanand, a resident of Gujarat and head of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, was earlier acquitted in the Ajmer Dargah blast case and is currently on bail in Samjhauta Express blast case of 2014. Devendra Gupta is the RSS pracharak from Bihar while Lokesh Sharma is a RSS activist from Madhya Pradesh.
The powerful explosion also injured more than 50 during the Friday prayers at the 17th century mosque near the iconic Charminar on May 18, 2007. Later, five more people were killed in subsequent police firing on the crowd outside the mosque.
There were a total of 10 accused in the case and five of them were chargesheeted by the NIA. One, Sunil Joshi, a RSS pracharak, was murdered during the course of investigation. Three accused, Sandeep V Dange and Ramchandra Kalsangra, both RSS activists, and Amit Chowhan, are absconding while Tejram Parmar is on bail.
A total of three chargesheets were filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the NIA in the sensational case. Over 200 witnesses were examined and 400 documents were submitted to the court.
The city police, which initially took up investigations, blamed Bangaldeshi terror outfit Harkatul Jihad Islami and rounded up about 100 Muslim youth. All those arrested and jailed were acquitted in 2008 and the subsequent investigations by the CBI in 2010 revealed that the blast was the handiwork of Hindu rightwing group Abhinav Bharat. The case was handed over to NIA on April 4, 2011.
According to the chargesheet, the accused were "angered by terrorist attacks committed on Hindus and their temples" and conspired to "avenge" such acts with attacks on Muslim places of worship and places densely populated by Muslims.
The chargesheet also mentioned that Aseemanand made a confessional statement before a metropolitan magistrate in Delhi. He had allegedly disclosed the conspiracy behind the bomb blasts in different places, including Mecca. Aseemanand allegedly retracted the statement later.
Aseemanand was first arrested by CBI in 2010 but was granted conditional bail in 2017 in the case.