By Prof. M.H. Jawahirullah,
Kunangudi Haniffa, one of the founders of Tamilnadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam and the first treasurer of Pattali Makkal Katchi, and 7 others who were languishing in prison for 13 years were acquitted of all the terror and conspiracy charges by the Poonamalle special bomb blast cases court.
Kunangudi Haniffa, Eruvadi Kasim, Abdul Raheem, Mohammad Gani, Mohammad Alikhan, Shamshad Ahamed, Riyadur Rahman, Mohammad Thasthagir and Ashraf Ali were arrested after a series of blasts rocked three trains, killing 10 persons and injuring 70 others way back on December 6, 1997.
Mr. Kunangudi Haniffa after his release
After most of the prosecution witnesses turned hostile and the eyewitness account was also considered too feeble to strengthen the prosecution theory, the special judge, Premkumar, had little option but to acquit all the persons.
Three trains, all originating from Chennai, were rocked by blasts on December 6, 1997, on the Babri Masjid demolition anniversary. While a blast occurred on Pandiyan Express at Tiruchi station, the Coimbatore-bound Cheran Express witnessed similar attack at Erode railway station. The Alleppey Express blast occurred just when the train was entering Kerala. All the blasts happened between 5.30am and 6am that day. The police had arraigned a total of 10 accused in the case. Of them, Ashraf Ali is absconding while Mohammad Thasthagir died in 2000 during trial.
The others had been lodged at the Puzhal central prison. Over 156 witnesses were questioned. The accused had been charged for offences under various sections of the IPC, the Explosives Substances Act, the Railways Act etc.
Special Judge Premkumar acquitted the eight men saying that charges against them were not proved beyond reasonable doubt.
Six of the eight men were released on Friday (May 21, 2010) while Ervadi Kasim and Ali Abdullah are in prison for their involvement in some other cases.
The acquittal of all the eight persons has raised substantial legal questions. This is a model case of how innocent Muslims including those who have been active political activists are harassed in the name of fighting terror.
Mr. Kunangudi Haniffa was arrested in this case on 15-02-1998 while he was attending the wedding of his daughter in his native village Anumnadagudi (Sivagangai District) in connection with case No. 1229/97 (on the file of the Railway Police, Trichy) and remanded to judicial custody. After prolonged investigation, chargesheet was laid in the year 2001 and the trial commenced in the Special Court for exclusive trial of Bomb Blast cases at Poonamallee. (S.C.No.2 of 2001).
E Kunangudi Haniffa flanked by TMMK President Prof.M.H.Jawahirullah and General Secretary S.Hyder Ali addresses the press at TMMK Hqrs after his release
Mr. Kunangudi Haniffa was implicated in this case with a bald allegation of conspiracy and he was in confinement for the last 13 years. He was accused of hatching the conspiracy to blast the trains on the 5th anniversary of Babri Masjid demolition. To prove the charge of conspiracy, the prosecution relied only on two witnesses namely Doss (PW25) and Mohamed Ali (PW29). During the trial both the witnesses turned hostile. Except these two witnesses there were no other witnesses in the chargesheet to prove the charge of conspiracy against Mr. Haniffa.
With the evidence of PW25 and PW29, the case against the petitioner by the prosecution had fallen flat. The imaginary allegation of conspiracy against the petitioner has been totally demolished and the prosecution miserably failed to prove the charge of conspiracy against the petitioner.
Bail not granted even after 7 yrs in jail
In spite of numerous bail petitions in the Trial Court and in the Hon’ble High Court of Judicature at Madras, Mr. Kunangudi Haniffa and all the eight persons arrested along with him were not granted bail. When Mr. Kunangudi Haniffa filed a bail petition in the High Court during October 2009, Mr.Justice Nagamuthu dismissed the petition after the Public Prosecutor promised that the case before the trial court will end within a month.
The denial of bail to Mr. Haniffa and the co accused was clearly against Supreme Court’s judgment in Shaheen Welfare Association Vs Union of India AIR (1996) SC 2957 in which the Hon’ble Apex Court has held that denial of bail after seven years of incarceration would be violative of Article 21 of the Constitution. Besides this judgment, the Apex Court has in a series of judgments ruled against long incarceration, without bail.
In the Sankararaman Murder case for releasing Thiru Jayendra Saraswathi on bail the Hon’ble Supreme Court had fully gone through the materials produced even at the stage of investigation and released Jayendra Saraswathi on bail. However the courts failed to follow this yardstick in the case of Mr. Kunangudi Haniffa, a well known political activist who had to languish in the prison for more than 13 years to breathe freedom though prima facie a strong case has been made out for the grant of bail. Mr Haniffa’s incarceration for 13 long years is clearly violative of Art.21 of the Constitution of India as held by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in 2001 (1) Crimes Vol.VII S.C. Page 46 Satya Brat Gain Vs State of Bihar.
Mr. Haniffa’s entire life is ruined and the welfare of the family members was also destroyed. Mr. Haniffa is diabetic and blood pressure patient undergoing treatment.
Date after date for pronouncement of judgement
The long drawn trial of this case in the Poonamallee Special Court is also a specific example of how lethargic the justice delivery system works in the case involving innocent Muslims. Even after the examination of witnesses and all arguments have been completed both by the prosecution and by the defence it took almost six months for the delivery of the Judgement.
Mr. Kunangudi Haniffa in front of Puzhal Central prison after his release
31st March 2010 was initially fixed for delivering judgment and was subsequently adjourned to 7th of April and again to 9th of April. But even on 9th of April judgment was not pronounced and was posted to 23rd of April. Again on 23rd April, the matter got adjourned again to 30th of April.
When the above accused were waiting for pronouncement of judgment on 30th April, the learned Special Judge for Exclusive Trial of Bomb Blast Cases, adjourned the matter to 10th of May, for clearing certain doubts in the case.
TMMK had to organize public rally
It was under these circumstances Tamilnadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam organized a rally in which thousands of men and women marched toward Madras High Court on 5th May 2010 demanding expeditious judgement in this case. At the end of the rally a TMMK delegation met the Registrar General of Madras High Court and submitted a memorandum addressed to the Chief Justice. The Registrar informed the delegation that the Chief Justice Mr. Dharma Rao has summoned the Poonamalle Special Court Judge Mr. Premkumar for seeking explanation of the delay in pronouncing judgement in this case. Subsequently the Special Court Judge while hearing the case on May 10 announced that Judgement would be delivered on 21st May.
Mr. Kunangudi Haniffa’s incarceration and his acquittal in the case are typical example of how in the case of Muslims justice is delayed which tantamount to justice denied. Who can give back to Mr. Haniffa and 7 others the precious 13 years they lost?
(The writer is President, Tamilnadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam)