The National Investigation Agency (NIA) dropped all charges against religious leader Pragya Thakur and five others for lack of evidence in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case, saying a shoddy probe by Maharashtra authorities forced the U-turn.
The investigators revoked provisions of the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) in the case and alleged the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) planted explosives on one of the accused.
The September 2008 blasts in the Muslim-majority Malegaon town killed six people and injured 101. It was the most prominent in a string of alleged Hindu terror cases.
HT had reported on April 24 that the NIA was planning to let Thakur and others off the hook for lack of evidence.
When asked if errant ATS officials will be prosecuted, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis appeared non-committal. “I am not aware of the details of what NIA has submitted, so I will not be able to comment on it at the moment.”
The chargesheet said an assistant police inspector Shekhar Bagade went to the house of an accused, Sudhakar Chaturvedi, when he wasn’t at home on November 3, 2008.
But the police officer kept the visit a secret, even asking one of the witnesses to not reveal anything about the visit.
Two weeks later on November 25, ATS officials searched Chaturvedi’s house and found a detonator and gunny bag, among other materials.
The samples on cotton swabs taken from his house --- sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Mumbai – revealed traces of RDX. FSL said the explosive ingredients recovered from the blast site at Malegaon were similar to the samples from Chaturvedi’s house.
The NIA later examined accused Prasad Purohit and Ramesh Upadhayay, who revealed Bagade visited Chaturvedi’s house – a fact that was corroborated by an army major and a subedar.
“On considering the facts narrated by witnesses, the question arises why API Bagade visited the house of Sudharkar Chaturvedi in the absence of accused or witnesses, and why he requested one of the witnesses not to tell anything about his presence in the house,” said the chargesheet.
“This creates a doubt on this recovery of swabs of RDX keeping…,” stated the NIA chargesheet.
“This recovery becomes suspect on the ground that the ATS Mumbai may have planted the RDX traces to implicate him, and the other accused persons in the case,” read the NIA chargesheet.
Bagade – now a senior police inspector with Navi Mumbai police station – dismissed the charges. “These are wild allegations. How can somebody plant RDX? I had gone to check the address of Chaturvedi, and it is on record,” he said.
The Opposition alleged the BJP government is going slow in prosecuting these incidents to shield the accused – many of whom are linked to Hindu groups.
“The central government wanted to save Malegaon (blast case) accused as they have connections with them,” senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh told the media.
Minister of state for home Kiren Rijiju dismissed the allegations, saying government does not interfere in the investigation by the agencies.
Another key accused, Lt. Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, was charged under the anti-terror law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Indian Penal Code. He and nine others were named in the chargesheet.
The case was handed over from the ATS to the NIA in 2011 along with six other cases of alleged Hindu terror.
The NIA chargesheet said MCOCA provisions were dropped because of procedural lapses and the ATS appeared to have filed chargesheets against one of the accused without sufficient evidence, only to fulfill conditions of the anti-terror act. Without the MCOCA, confessions by the accused to police officers wouldn’t be admissible in court.