A protracted delay in handing over the 2008 Malegaon blasts probe from Maharashtra authorities to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) proved to be the biggest hurdle, a chargesheet in the case said on Friday.
The NIA dropped all charges against religious leader Pragya Thakur and five others in the chargesheet citing lack of evidence.
The agency also revoked provisions of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) against all accused, which means their confessions before police won’t be admissible in court.
On September 29, 2008, a blast in the Maharashtra textile town of Malegaon killed six people and injured 101 others.
The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) led by late IPS officer Hemant Karkare arrested Thakur and two others on October 10. A forensic laboratory said the engine number of the motorcycle used in the explosion was registered to Thakur.
But the probe ground to a halt after Karkare’s death in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. It was handed to the NIA three years later.
“The delay led to a situation wherein no additional evidence could be collected from the scene of crime, and the veracity of the evidence collected by previous investigation agency could not be fully substantiated,” the chargesheet said.
The delay made it impossible to obtain telephone or mobile records to substantiate the statements of the witness and accused, the NIA said.
The NIA had earlier said they could not interrogate any key accused -- including Lt Col Prasad Purohit or Major Ramesh Upadhayay -- because of legal hurdles created by them but supported their stand that MCOCA should be dropped.
The ATS invoked MCOCA in the case after the November 2008 arrest of Rakesh Dhawade, also the accused in blasts at Parbhani in 2003 and Jalna in 2004.
But the NIA questioned the ATS decision to file supplementary chargesheets in Parbhani and Jalna blasts after Dhawade’s arrest. An accused has to be named in two previous chargesheets before MCOCA can be applied.
“On considering the date of Dhawade’s arrest and filing of chargesheet, it is apparent there was hardly any time available to ATS Mumbai to collect evidence. The said chargesheets were filed with sole purpose of fulfilling the condition of the MCOCA.”
No evidence showed the accused knew of Dharwade’s alleged involvement in the Parbhani and Jalna blast cases, and MCOCA couldn’t be applied as he retracted his confessions before a magistrate.
In the absence of MCOCA, the confessions of others couldn’t be relied upon to prosecute Thakur as all witnesses retracted their statements, the NIA said.