The Rajasthan High Court on Wednesday acquitted four Muslim men who had been sentenced to death in the 2008 Jaipur bomb blasts case, saying “there are clear-cut manipulations and fabrications in the material evidence”.

On May 13, 2008, nine bombs had exploded within a span of 25 minutes at eight locations in Jaipur, killing 71 people and injuring 185.

A division bench of Justices Pankaj Bhandari and Sameer Jain on Wednesday acquitted Mohammed Sarvar Azmi, Mohammed Saif, Saifurrehman Ansari and Mohammed Salman who were given the capital punishment in 2019 by a special court in Jaipur.

“It is apparent that the investigation was not fair and it appears that nefarious means were employed by the investigating agencies, material witnesses required to unfold the events were withheld and apparent manipulations and fabrications have been done during the investigation,” the High Court order stated.

The judges directed the Rajasthan Police chief to take action against the erring investigating officers.

“This case is a classic example of institutional failure resulting in botched/flawed/shoddy investigation,” they observed. “We fear this isn’t the first case to suffer due to failure of investigation agencies and if things are allowed to continue the way they are, this certainly won’t be the last case in which administration of justice is affected due to shoddy investigation.”

The court also said that there was no basis to establish the Rajasthan Police’s case of implicating the accused men on charges of conspiracy.

“A few bits here and a few bits there on which the prosecution relies cannot be held to be adequate for connecting the accused with the commission of the crime of criminal conspiracy,” the order said. “It has to be shown that the means adopted and illegal acts done were in furtherance of the object of the conspiracy hatched.”

The judges noted that the investigating team lacked required legal skills and approached the case in a callous manner.

“The failure on the part of the investigation agency has frustrated the case of the prosecution and the evidence so recorded is not fulfilling the chain of evidence,” they said.

They said the special court relied upon inadmissible evidence and ignored material contradictions in the matter.

The Association for Protection of Civil Rights, which assisted the convicts in the case, welcomed the verdict saying they were falsely implicated in the case. The families of the four men have also maintained that they were framed, a statement by the non-governmental organisation said.

“This is the first case where the death penalty has been awarded on circumstantial evidence,” said Farooq Paker, the former president of the Rajasthan chapter of Association for Protection of Civil Rights. “There was no direct evidence. Not a single witness could identify any of these four men planting a bomb on the bicycle. Also, the bicycle purchase bill produced in court is different from the frame number of the bicycle used in the bomb blast.”

Reports said the state government will move the Supreme Court challenging the High Court order.