Vinay Patil knows he is fortunate to be alive. He was in the Khar Road-Santacruz local when a bomb went off in the packed coach on the evening of July 11, 2006. Six more bombs went off in the next ten minutes in different local trains in Mumbai, killing 189 people and wounding some 700. “I will not forget that day. In fact, I cannot forget it even for a little while,” said Patil.
So, it was justice served for Patil and other survivors of the blasts when special judge Y.D. Shinde of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act court pronounced death sentence on five of those accused in the case on September 30. Seven others were given life term. Those who got the death penalty—Kamal Ansari, Asif Khan, Ehtesham Siddiqi, Naveed Khan and Faisal Shaikh—had ferried and planted the bombs in the trains and communicated with their Pakistani handlers.
For the prosecution and the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad, which investigated the case, it was an emphatic victory after a difficult battle. Former ATS chief K.P. Raghuvanshi said he was happy that justice was done to the victims of the attacks and their families. “I never had any doubt about the quality of the probe my men carried out,” he said.
The bomb blasts made Pakistan-backed terror outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba a household name in India. The ATS said LeT trained and used local youths, who were associated with the banned Students Islamic Movement of India, to carry out the attacks.
The ATS faced many stumbling blocks during the investigation. It started the investigation in vacuum, but connected the dots to prove the conspiracy from across the border. In between, Indian Mujahideen operative Sadiq Shaikh's claim that it was not LeT but IM that was behind the bomb blasts almost derailed the investigation. But the ATS figured out Shaikh's game plan.
“The probe morphed into a challenge of sorts for the investigation team as there were no clues,” said an ATS officer. The investigators got a breakthrough when they traced calls made by one Mumtaz Chowdhury in Navi Mumbai to Faisal in Bihar. Soon the sleuths latched on to Ansari, who was arrested from Basopatti in Madhubani near the India-Nepal border. “But, it was only after we caught Faisal that we got to understand the conspiracy and the planning,” said the officer.
A telephone booth at Nagpada was used by the perpetrators of the blasts as their 'command'. Most of them used this booth to remain in touch with each other. “Normally, calls go out from a PCO. But this PCO received a lot of calls. This made us suspicious and eventually we could establish how it was being exploited by them,” said another ATS officer.
The call detail records, however, were not made a part of the voluminous charge sheet filed by the ATS. “These are pieces useful for investigation but cannot be relied upon as evidence in the strictest sense of the term,” said an officer. And, according to special public prosecutor Raja Thakare, exclusion of these records from the charge sheet did not affect the prosecution arguments or case.
For the prosecution, the gravity of the crime was the central plank of the argument. “We wanted to produce evidence that cannot be contradicted by defence,” said Thakare. “We ensured that we maintained a low profile and presented before the court whatever we thought was worthwhile in making our case watertight.”