Rohini Salian has claimed that the National Investigation Agency had told her not to appear in the case and that she was facing pressure to go easy on the accused.
Kicking up a controversy, the special public prosecutor in the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast case in which some Hindu extremists are accused, alleged that the National Investigation Agency had asked her to "go soft" on the accused after the Narendra Modi government assumed power in May last year.
"An NIA officer called me up and said he wanted to meet me. He then met me some time last year and asked me to go soft on the accused in this case," claimed Rohini Salian, who is the SPP in the case. She said the officer, who she declined to name, had apparently got instructions from higher-ups to convey this to her, Salian told reporters in Mumbai.
"Again on June 12 this year, the same officer met me and conveyed orally that I was to be replaced by some other lawyer in this case. I told him to settle my bills and denotify me as a prosecutor in this case. However, till date, neither a notification has been issued about my replacement with some other lawyer nor my bills settled," the prosecutor said.
In Delhi, the NIA came out with a two-page clarification denying that any officer of the agency had given an "inappropriate briefing" to her. It also refuted her charge of creating impediments in her prosecution work of NIA cases she has been handling.
The NIA, however, confirmed that its Mumbai branch had through a letter of June 16 recommended denotifying three special public prosecutors including her. "Recommendation of the branch has reached the Head office and the matter is under process," it said.
Dubbing it as "undeclared Emergency", the Congress demanded removal of the NIA director general and launched a sharp attack on the Modi government over Salian's remarks that she was under pressure from NIA to go soft in the Malegaon case.
Party spokesperson Ajay Maken demanded that the NIA probe be monitored by the Supreme Court or the high court henceforth, as the Congress has "no faith" in the ongoing investigations by the agency under the home ministry.
Salian said she had raised a dispute with the NIA over her remuneration. While the NIA was ready to pay her fees on par with what the Central Bureau of Investigation prosecutors get, she had refused to accept this saying she should be paid more as done by the NIA in the past.
The 68-year-old lawyer said she had appeared for the NIA in two cases. One was the fake currency case in which six accused have been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by a special court. Their appeals are pending in the Bombay high court. The other case is the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast.
The NIA said that the Malegaon blast case has not yet reached the trial stage. "Therefore, it is incorrect to infer that Ms Salian was being bypassed for court appearances," it said.
In the 2008 Malegaon blast case, 12 persons, including Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit, were arrested. Of these 12, four are on bail. The NIA took over the case in 2011 and later three more accused were arrested. However, they were granted bail in the case by default as charge sheet was not filed against them.
The Malegaon blast on September 29, 2008 killed four persons and injured another 79. Investigations initially cast suspicion on the involvement of minority community in the incident. However, the probe under late Hemant Karkare, the then anti-terrorism squad chief, suspected the involvement of right wing extremists and arrested Sadhvi Thakur and others.
A lawyer of 25 years standing, Salian is also a prosecutor in Mulund bomb blast case (in which three cases are clubbed together) and 2002 Ghatkopar bomb blast case. She has also appeared in some high profile Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act cases and Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act cases.
Salian, who hails from Mangalore in Karnataka, has also served as the chief public prosecutor in Mumbai for close to five years in the past. She was also the public prosecutor in the 1992 J J Hospital shootout case in which underworld Don Dawood Ibrahim's aide Subhash Thakur was sentenced to death.