Some justice

A Mumbai couple and their associate have been convicted by a special Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) court for their role in the twin blasts at the iconic Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazar, a diamond market, in Mumbai on Aug 25, 2003. This is among the few bomb blast cases in the country where justice has been done as those who carried out the deadly bombings have been convicted. Many will point to the relatively short time in which the trial has been completed and judgments delivered. Indeed, compared with the serial blasts of 1993 where it took the courts 13 years to complete the investigations, examine witnesses, try the accused and deliver the judgment, the six years spent on the 2003 blasts case is relatively less.

However, it is only the planters of the bombs, the lowest in the hierarchy of the conspiracy — that have been convicted. The man suspected to be the chief conspirator could not be tried as he was killed in a police encounter a few months after the blasts. Three others were arrested but one, who claimed to be an LeT operative, turned approver and was pardoned, while the other two were discharged after a review by the special court last year.

Investigations revealed that the blasts were carried out by members of the Gujarat Muslim Revenge Force to avenge the violence that Muslims were subjected to in the 2002 communal riots in Gujarat. It is over seven years since that pogrom but many of those who carried out the attacks or enabled them are free. Conviction of those who carried out the 2003 Mumbai blasts will seem a partial delivery of justice so long as those guilty of the Gujarat carnage roam free.

Arrests and convictions in this case were possible because of evidence provided by a Mumbai cab driver, a key witness. His identity was made public by the police making him vulnerable to attempts to silence him. It prompted calls for the setting up of a comprehensive witness protection programme. But six years on, files on this issue are gathering dust. Investigations and trials, especially of terrorism cases, are not easy as few witnesses are willing to come forward to provide evidence. Their fears are understandable. A whistleblower Act, which is being talked about for years, must be put in place immediately.

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