It was the first case in India’s investigative history at the time when DNA samples were used by agencies.

 

New Delhi: If it was not for the discovery of an abandoned robe worn by Buddhist monks and the far-sightedness of a National Investigation Agency (NIA) officer to preserve the DNA samples from that robe, Indian agencies would have found it difficult to prove the links between the accused of the 2013 Mahabodhi, Bodh Gaya and Gandhi Maidan, Patna, serial blasts.

On 7 July 2013, the temple town of Bodh Gaya and Mahabodhi temple were rocked by a series of bomb blasts. Almost 110 days later, the same pattern was repeated on 27 October when serial blasts were carried out in and around Patna Gandhi’s Maidan where the then BJP Prime Ministerial candidate was addressing a public rally. Last week, four of the nine accused belonging to Indian Mujahideen (IM) and Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), were sentenced to death by a NIA special court, for their involvement in the Patna serial bomb blasts. The other five were awarded life imprisonment.

Among the nine who were convicted in the Patna serial bombing case were Haider Ali alias Black Beauty, Imtiaz Ansari, Umer Siddique, Azharuddin Qureshi and Mujibullah Ansari. All these five were also involved in the Bodh Gaya Mahabodhi blasts and are already serving life terms for the same.

After the National Investigation Agency (NIA) was handed over the investigation of the Bodh Gaya blast by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), former Madhya Pradesh cadre IPS officer, Sanjeev Singh, who passed away last year, was tasked with the responsibility to head the investigation. Singh, who was working as an Inspector General in the NIA at that time, was already handling other multiple sensitive cases, but since the attack at Gaya had international ramifications, the MHA asked the NIA to depute Singh so that the perpetrators could be identified as quickly as possible.

When Singh and his team reached the blast site two days later, there was nothing much to go by except debris and some remains of the explosive device. There were scant eyewitness accounts on who planted the bombs. Singh who joined the IPS in 1987, while inspecting the quarters where the Buddhist monks stayed during their pilgrimage, found an abandoned robe. None of the monks who were in the temple campus claimed the robe and this alerted Singh.

Immediately, a forensic team from Hyderabad was summoned by him and the team collected DNA samples from the robe. All the collected samples, after removing the samples of the police officers, judicial officers and other officials who were a part of the investigation, were then ordered to be preserved by Singh.

Three months later, the Gandhi Maidan Patna blast, targeting Modi, took place. The NIA was asked to investigate it and again it was Singh and his team who were given the responsibility of finding out the perpetrators. Soon enough, some of the alleged accused were arrested by the NIA. During the course of the investigation, Singh decided to match the DNA samples of the accused who were arrested in the Patna blast with the sample that he had directed to be collected from the abandoned robe that he had found during the Gaya blast.

The samples matched. This proved beyond doubt that the blast in Gaya and Patna were carried out by the same individuals and that they had been working and executing plans to carry out assassinations using serial bombing. It was the first case in India’s investigative history at that time when DNA samples were used by agencies to prove facts conclusively.

“Singh left many such precedents for us to follow while investigating a case and preparing a fool proof charge-sheet. He introduced many ‘firsts’ in the way criminal and terror investigation is carried out in the country. His junior colleagues religiously follow what they learnt from him. Even in the charge-sheet filed in the Uri, Pulwama terror case, which were finalized by his junior colleagues, Singh played a vital role,” an IPS officer who served in the NIA when Singh was the IG, said. IPS officer of 2003 batch, Vikas Vaibhav, who is presently Special Secretary, Home Department, Bihar and was a part of Singh’s team as an SP in NIA that investigated the Gaya and Patna cases, in a Facebook post after the Gandhi Maidan judgment, mentioned about the role played by the NIA and Singh in solving the case and the link between the Gaya and Patna blasts. “Today, after getting the news about the judgment in the Gandhi Maidan case, I went back to the time when the NIA had started the investigation.  I remember the role played by then IG, NIA, Sanjeev Singh, and DIG Anurag Tankha who headed the investigation and ensured that justice was done in the case. I am thinking what would be the reaction of both of them on hearing about this judgment if they were alive. They are not with us today, but the role played by the two officials in solving the case, the effort that they put in was incredible,” Vaibhav wrote.

Tankha, an IPS officer of 1995 batch, passed away in July this year at a relatively young age of 51 after fighting a prolonged battle with cancer.