The National Investigation Agency dropped all charges against religious leader Pragya Thakur and five others in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case, triggering Opposition allegations that the “Hindu terror” accused were freed because of government pressure.
The investigators also removed charges against all accused under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) - a move that is likely to weaken the prosecution case.
HT had reported on April 24 that the NIA was planning to let Thakur and others off the hook for lack of evidence.
During investigation, “sufficient evidences have not been found against” Pragya Singh Thakur and five others, the NIA said, adding it has submitted in the chargesheet “that the prosecution against them is not maintainable”.
The NIA move will strengthen opposition parties, who repeatedly accuse the NDA government of going slow in cases where Hindu terror suspects are involved.
“The central government wanted to save Malegaon (blast case) accused as they have connections with them,” senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh told the media here.
“Even Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) wants to save the people involved in terror activities.”
Minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju dismissed the allegations, saying government does not interfere in the investigation by the agencies. “We allow agencies to work independently,”
Another key accused, Lt. Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, was charged under the anti-terror law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Indian Penal Code. Purohit was allegedly involved in the setting up of Abhinav Bharat and met some of its members to discuss terror plans.
NIA director general Sharad Kumar said there was no dilution in the case.
“Till our investigation was not complete, we had to go by the probe done by the ATS. Now that we have completed the investigations, we have submitted our final report (chargesheet)”.
The September 2008 blasts in the Muslim-majority Maharashtra town killed seven people. In 2009, the state anti-terrorism squad named 14 people in a chargesheet, including Thakur - who was arrested on charges of being a key conspirator.
The case was handed over to the NIA in 2011 along with six other cases of alleged Hindu terror.
Several such cases - such blasts in Malegaon (September 2006 and September 2008), Samjhauta Express (February 2007) and Mecca Masjid (May 2007) - have been dogged by slow prosecution and hostile witnesses.
HT reported in April that the NIA was planning to drop MCOCA provisions because of procedural lapses by the Maharashtra ATS. But dropping MCOCA will weaken the case as confessions of the accused made before a police officer will no longer be admissible as evidence in a court.
Of around a dozen witnesses in the 2008 Malegaon blasts, two retracted their statements five years back. One made a complaint before the Maharashtra human rights commission, alleging coercion. Two more witnesses, Yashpal Bhadana and Dr RP Singh, recently alleged the same in front of a magistrate.
Former NIA prosecutor in the case Rohini Salian had alleged that an officer of the agency asked her to ‘go soft’ on the accused after the NDA came to power.