The TADA court rejected Salem’s application for the extradition papers from the Portuguese supreme court, saying the documents were not relevant to the case at the moment.
Abu Salem is no stranger to controversy. The underworld don, who is lodged at the high-security Taloja Jail in Navi Mumbai, recently alleged that Jail Superintendent Hiralal Jadhav was conspiring to kill him by injecting poison into his body with the help of a doctor posted in the jail.
The allegation was first made on August 14, in a 16-page application submitted to the TADA [Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act] special court, which is trying Salem for his alleged role in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts. Prison authorities immediately constituted an inquiry committee to look into the allegation. Both Salem and Jadhav have been questioned by the committee, headed by Bipin Kumar Singh, inspector-general of police (prisons). Even as the investigation is on, Salem has come up with more serious charges against Jadhav, who, in turn, has alleged that Salem was enjoying a lavish life inside the jail.
Salem was extradited from Portugal in November 2005, after years of intense diplomatic and political haggling. He has often alleged that Indian security agencies have treated him badly and that they have violated the terms of the extradition agreement by torturing him and bringing additional charges against him.
Salem’s latest allegation, however, has been the most shocking. What has particularly alarmed prison authorities, say sources, was the “precise nature of the charges” levelled by Salem. He first alleged that Jadhav was hatching a conspiracy to kill him and, later, that Jadhav was planning to prepare a postmortem report to make the death appear natural. Salem also alleged that Jadhav was “using a variety of measures” to torture and harass him inside the prison.
Salem's relatives and lawyers said they were concerned “at the turn of events” and that the gravity of the charges had led jail authorities to deepen and widen the scope of their inquiry. “I would not like to comment specifically on the matter, as it is sub judice. An inquiry is on and the court will take a final call on the issue,” Salem's nephew Rashid Ansari told THE WEEK.
The inquiry committee is determined to “get to the bottom of the matter”. “Sometime ago, Salem had submitted to us an application detailing his charges,” Bipin Kumar Singh told THE WEEK. “Based on that, we initiated an inquiry into the matter, which was carried out by me and my staff. We are in the final leg of completing the inquiry. A final report would soon be sent to my head office.”
What is of particular concern for jail authorities is that Salem’s charges point to the larger issue of the safety of high-profile prisoners inside jail. Security officials in India had warned that Salem could be targeted by fugitive don Dawood Ibrahim’s top aide Chhota Shakeel. But several such intelligence warnings in the past were far from specific. Though Salem’s allegation was specific, an officer in the security establishment said that to assume that the superintendent of a top prison would go to the extent of plotting the elimination of someone like Salem, required quite a stretch of imagination.
Also, in his decade-long stay in Indian prisons, Salem has made a habit of throwing tantrums. He had previously accused officers of the Mumbai Anti-Terrorism Squad and the Central Bureau of Investigation of “misbehaving” with him and using “abusive torture techniques” on him. The CBI has charged him under various sections of the Indian Penal Code in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case. The Mumbai ATS had investigated his role in the murder of Juhu-based builder Pradeep Jain in 1995. Salem received a life sentence in the murder case. In an exclusive interview, Jain’s brother Sunil had told THE WEEK that Salem was “singularly brutal” while killing his brother. Salem was also sentenced to seven years in prison in a fake passport case.
In February last year, a woman from Mumbra moved the TADA court for permission to marry Salem saying a false media report of her having married him had “ruined her life” and so nobody else would marry her. It turned out that she had met Salem when he was taken to Lucknow for one his routine court appearances. Responding to the affidavit filed by her, Salem told the TADA court that he was willing to marry the woman so that she was “not defamed further” and sought “special permission” for the union. The judge, however, ordered an inquiry to ascertain whether the marriage had indeed taken place earlier.
Over the past couple of years, Salem has turned into a diplomatic hot potato of sorts for India. He threatened to move the European Union (EU) after the supreme court in Portugal “terminated his extradition” in the latter half of 2013. His counsel Sudeep Pasbola told THE WEEK that the CBI was playing hookey when it came to “presenting before the [TADA] court” the series of correspondences between Indian authorities and Portuguese courts before Salem was extradited to India. “We demand that the CBI place the entire file [of correspondences and executive assurances offered by Indian authorities] before the court, especially in view of the fact that the terms binding on the existing extradition formalities were terminated by the Portugal court in October 2013,” said Pasbola.
The Indian government had, in 2005, promised Portuguese authorities that Salem, if extradited, would not be awarded death penalty and that he would not be made party in criminal cases other than those in which he was a direct accused. Salem's lawyers have been arguing that the additional charges the CBI had brought against him in cases to which he was not directly related violated the extradition arrangement.
That argument, however, is a bit disingenuous. The TADA court recently rejected Salem’s application for the extradition papers from the Portuguese supreme court, saying the documents were not relevant to the case at the moment. Salem is reportedly set to move the Supreme Court of India against the order.