National Investigation Agency (NIA) was created (December 2008) to investigate fairly in terror related cases, collect evidence and get offenders punished. Unfortunately, its handling is considered adverse to the mandate, as was seen in Malegaon and Samjhauta blast cases. Its fairness is also under clouds in the Uttawar Mosque case of Palwal as in Alan Shuhaib, Thaha Fasal ‘terror case’ of Kerala.
THE UTTAWAR MOSQUE CASE
In Sep-Oct, 2018, NIA alleged an under-construction Mosque in a sleepy Village Uttawar in Palwal (Haryana) of “terror funding”. The sweeping accusations created the opportunity for malicious media to create hateful suspicions against a particular community.
A national English daily broke the news (27 Sept 2018) with the headline: “NIA busts LeT-linked terror funding racket, arrests three.” Another national (Hindi) daily wrote: “Lashkar-e-Taiba funds helped build a mosque in Haryana’s Palwal, claims NIA”; and so on.
After arresting three from form Delhi, the agency accused them of “receiving terror funding from Lahore-based Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), a front-end organisation of proscribed anti-India extremist group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT).” (Indian Express, October 15)
Certainly, funding by a terror-related group in India is a grave matter, graver if done for some religious activity and gravest if for a Muslim place of worship. A true Muslim never allows such donations. However, the TRP-hungry media hyped the allegation as if the fact had been established, with hard-hitting tenor, creating sensation and a deep demonising effect against the community. However, after three years, the NIA court in Patiala House, Delhi found the allegations untenable. The court set free all the accused, including Hafiz Mohd Salman of the village, the manager and Imam of the newly built ‘Khulafa e Rashideen’ Mosque in question on October 22.
At the time of registering the case, NIA had claimed, “During the investigation, it emerged that a Nizamuddin-based resident (Salman) was in regular touch with one Dubai-based Pakistani national, who in turn is connected with the Deputy Chief of Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation. The accused person has been receiving funds, being sent by FIF operators and his associates through hawala operators,” NIA IG Alok Mittal said.
He added that persons from Pakistan, UAE, etc. were sending money to further their “nefarious activities and create unrest in India and carry out the terrorist activities”. (Indian Express, September 27, 2018)
The NIA detailed that Hafiz Saeed along with deputy chief of FIF Shahid Mahmood hatched the conspiracy in 2012 to create sleeper cells and logistic base in Delhi and Haryana under the garb of religious work.
“In pursuance of this conspiracy, Mahmood tasked his associate namely Mohammad Kamran, a Pakistani national based in Dubai, for re-routing funds from Pakistan to Dubai and further to India through hawala channels. Kamran was further tasked to identify religious-minded Indian Muslims who could be given this fund in the name of construction of a mosque, education in Madrasa, the marriage of girls, medical assistance to create its bases,” said the NIA.
If a political leader had made such an accusation, one can shake it out of the mind, but NIA’s statement had shaken souls. Nobody can give clean chit to any terror group but such ‘revelations’ in the public and no proof in the court, are worrying.
IMAGINATION AND EVIDENCE
The distressing allegations of terror activities in the garb of religious activities made in media did not gain ground in the court. As evidence of the accused person’s involvement in terror acts, the NIA put before the court two messages from the mobile of the main accused (Hafiz Salman). One read as, “ghee ka intezaam ho gaya hai, Bombay wali party bhi aayegi…unke hatho bhijwa denge” (“The ‘ghee’ has been arranged, the party from Bombay will also come, will send it through them.” The second message was, “and “Kamran bhai bhi aaye hai Dubai…aap khidmat me the na isliye aapko nahi pata hai” (“Kamran has also come to Dubai. You were in Khidmat (attending Tablighi guests), hence you do not know.”
The NIA tried to impress the court that “ghee” was used as a code word for “explosives” and “Khidmat” for “terrorist training.” The court did not buy the argument. In fact, NIA searches did not yield any explosive material or terror training infrastructure to support these assumptions. The court asserted that mere suspicion cannot be a ground to decide. On the basis of these ‘code’ words, none can be linked to the terror.
On September 26, 2018, the NIA arrested Hafiz Mohd Salman (52), Mohammad Salim, and Sajjad Abdul Wani. A fourth accused Mohammad Hussain Molani alias Babloo was arrested from Jaipur on January 22, 2019, when he arrived from the UAE. In the absence of evidence, the court set all the four free.
Such sweeping allegations create serious doubts about development projects of mosques, Madrasas, and other Muslim charity works. Mohd Salman of Uttawar was made “main accused” as he was handling the project. His father Mohd Daood was a well-known orator at Tablighi Jamat Markaz, and so was based in Nizamuddin. He was a highly reputed person in the area. His elder son Hafiz Salman also stayed in Nizamuddin. Certainly, he would have come in contact with visitors from abroad. ED had made him accused of Rs. 75 lakh Hawala transactions.
THE VILLAGE UTTAWAR
It may be mentioned that Uttawar is a communally harmonious place. The villagers unanimously donated a big plot (around 10 acre) for ‘Masjid Khulufa e Rashideen’ and the Madrasa for boys and girls, aiming at promoting literacy and culture in Muslims of the villages around.
The residents, including the village head Mr. Ramesh Prajapati, dismissed the NIA claims of terror funding. He told ANI, “The land was obtained legally and people from many villages have funded the construction.”
An investigating team of the Delhi Minority Commission also confirmed that the Mosque is being built by local support. The collections were made against receipts and account books are properly maintained, seized by NIA.
ALAN AND THAHA CASE
Kerala police held two local young men – Alan Shuhaib (21), a law student, and Thaha Fasal (24), a student of journalism – after they were spotted with an absconding Maoist named Usman. The police suspected their involvement in Maoist activities and confiscated ‘incriminating’ material from their houses, including newspaper cuttings, a book on freedom fighter Bhagat Singh and some posters linked to the Maoist movement.
The police booked them under the ‘Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act’ (UAPA) on November 1, 2019. On January 21, 2020, NIA took over the case.
An FIR initially invoked Section 20 of UAPA (Membership of a banned organisation), saying that they had conspired to execute unlawful activities. But the trial court found that the agency could not present evidence to prove their connection with CPI (Maoist) or any terror activity. So it granted them bail on September 9, 2020. Both were released on September 11, 2020.
However, the Kerala HC in January 2021 granted NIA appeal partially, cancelled Thaha’s bail but allowed Allan’s bail on health grounds.
IN THE SC
The NIA challenged the HC order in the SC. On October 28, 2021, an SC bench comprising Justices Ajay Rastogi and AS Oka dismissed the NIA’s contentions, refused to interfere with the high court’s bail order for Alan Shuhaib, instead ordered the release Thaha Fasal also on the bail.
The court noted that though both Allan and Thaha were booked for the offence under Section 20 of the UAPA for being a member of a terrorist organisation, this section was later dropped from the charge sheet.
TRIAL COURT’S OBSERVATIONS
Earlier the trial court Judge Anil K Bhaskar had pointed out, in his bail order, that the accusations of the prosecuting agency are insufficient to hold the duo under UAPA. It was stated that the student of Law and Journalism cannot be considered associated with CPI (Maoist) on the basis of some clippings from newspapers and that writings lenient to Maoism do not incriminate a person.
Judge Bhaskar also quoted from an observation of SC that “membership of a banned organisation will not incriminate a person unless he resorts to violence or incites people to violence or does an act intended to create a disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to violence”. The prosecution failed to produce evidence of their guilt to be tried under UAPA.
NIA is manned by the ablest officers. Yet such weak cases amount to sheer wastage of the precious time of the agency and the courts of law, burdening national resources as well as ruining innocent people.
[The writer is Chairman, Forum for Civil Rights. email: email@example.com]