The NIA absolved Pragya Singh Thakur and six others from the 2008 Malegaon blast case and will no longer apply MCOCA against the rest; agency also criticised "shortcomings" in ATS probe
The 2008 Malegaon blast case took a major U-turn yesterday, as the National Investigating Agency (NIA) gave a clean chit to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and five other accused in the case and also significantly watered down the case by eliminating the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) in a supplementary chargesheet filed yesterday.
Pragya Singh Thakur. File pic
The national agency claimed there were several "shortcomings" in the earlier investigation led by Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare, who had unveiled the Hindu terrorism angle to the case. Karkare was later martyred in the 26/11 terror strike in Mumbai. The NIA also stated that the ATS had used torture to extract confessions from the accused.
NIA's new chargesheet was introduced in a surprise move last afternoon, on the last working day of the Mumbai Sessions And City Civil Court that is specially designated for NIA cases. The court will now break for vacation and will reconvene next month. Taken by surprise, special public prosecutor Avinash Rasal was seen leaving the courtroom in a huff (See 'Prosecutor displeased').
In its 260-page supplementary chargesheet, the NIA stated that there was insufficient evidence against Pragya Singh Thakur, Shiv Narayan Kalasangra, Shyam Bhavarlal Sahu, Praveen Takkalki, Lokesh Sharma and Dhan Singh Choudhury. These six will likely be discharged soon.
However, the NIA has not given any relief to one of the main accused, Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit, alleged financer of the blasts and founder of the right-wing extremist group, Abhinav Bharat. Purohit, who dreams of India as a Hindu Rashtra, allegedly plotted to carry out blasts in Muslim pockets to avenge atrocities against the Hindu community by Muslims.
Holes in ATS probe
The NIA raised several questions about the way the ATS investigated the blast and filed its chargesheet, because of which the evidence was compromised. "There are several contradictions with regards to the evidence filed with the chargesheet by ATS, which raises questions about the reliability of these evidences," stated the NIA chargesheet.
Three of the accused retracted their confessions, while other confessions had to be removed from evidence because they were recorded under the MCOCA Act. The NIA stated that the MCOCA was hurriedly applied by the ATS in the Malegaon case, but it can no longer be used. The NIA said that to be charged under MCOCA, the accused must have at least two chargesheets against him. Only one of the accused — Rakesh Dhawde — qualified, as he had been booked in the Parbhani and Jalna blasts as well.
However, he was acquitted in the Jalna case and is no longer eligible for MCOCA. The agency also explained that the MCOCA charge was applied to the others by association, but there is no evidence that the remaining accused were aware that Dhawde had been charged in the other cases as well.
The new chargesheet names the 10 remaining accused — Ramesh Upadhyaya, Sameer Kulkarni, Ajay Rahirkar, Rakesh Dhawde, Jagdish Mhatre, Prasad Purohit, Dayanand Pandey, Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange. They will now be tried for murder, conspiracy and other charges under the provisions of anti-terror law UAPA, IPC, Arms Act and Explosives Substance Act. NIA special judge SD Tekale accepted the chargesheet and when the court reconvenes after vacation, he will decide on the discharge of those who were absolved.
Avinash Rasal, the special public prosecutor for the NIA had no knowledge that the NIA would be filing a chargesheet on Friday. It may be noted that Rohini Salian, the NIA public prosecutor in the same case, had told the media that she was facing pressure to go slow on the Malegaon case. Rasal also threatened to resign after storming out of court, but later retracted. "I was not informed till the last moment, but I am not resigning as NIA officials have apologised. The matter has been sorted out for now," said Rasal in a text message.
Sept 29, 2008: Bomb blasts during Ramzan kill six, injure 101
Oct 23: Pragya Singh Thakur, Shivnarayan Kalsangra and Shyam Sahu are arrested
Oct 28: Arrests of Retd Major Ramesh Upadhyay and Sameer Kulkarni take place
Nov 2: The ATS arrests Ajay Rahirkar treasurer of Abhinav Bharat, along with Rakesh Dhawde
Nov 3: Jagdish Mhatre was arrested from Dombivli
Nov 5: ATS caught the founder of Abhinav Bharat, Prasad Purohit
Nov 12: Dayananand Pandey was arrested from Lucknow
Nov 20: Sudhakar Chaturvedi held
Jan 20, 2009: ATS submits first charge sheet
April 6, 2011: Case was transferred to NIA from ATS
April 21: Supplementary charge sheet filed by ATS after Praveen Takkalki's arrest
May 13, 2016: NIA files supple-mentary chargesheet against 10 accused, including Lt Col Purohit