The main suspect in the 2008 Malegaon bombing, Pragya Singh Thakur, was cleared on Friday as the National Investigation Agency (NIA) dropped charges slapped on her under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).
She was one of firsts to be arrested in October 2008 — soon after a blast killed six people the previous month — and has been in jail since.
“Evidence against Pragya was found insufficient to prosecute her in the case,” NIA chief Sharad Kumar said.
The Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad (ATS), which initially led the probe, had charge-sheeted her along with 13 people.
She was arrested after forensics established that a motorcycle, which was rigged with explosives to trigger the blast, belonged to Thakur who lived in Surat. The ATS said she knew that the bike was used by her associate, fugitive suspect Ramji Kalsangra.
The NIA found holes in the evidence. “Kalsangra used to pay for its service and repairs as well. Witnesses stated that the motorcycle was in possession of Kalsangra for at least one-and-a-half years before the blast,” an official said.
Besides, Thakur’s complicity in the crime could not be proved from what the ATS claimed — she attended meetings of Abhinav Bharat, a Hindu extremist outfit apparently floated by serving military officer Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, and plotted the bombing.
“But evidence about these meetings came from confessional statements of three suspects, Sudhakar Dwivedi, Rakesh Dhawade and Praveen Takkalki, recorded under MCOCA. Once MCOCA was dropped, the statements lost evidentiary value and weakened the case against Thakur,” the official said.
Confessional statements of the accused recorded under the MCOCA are admissible as evidence in court.
The NIA found that the ATS applied MCOCA in haste. A person needs to be chargesheeted in two previous cases before the law can be slapped against the suspect.
Lt Col Purohit, another accused in the case, argued after his arrest that he was an intelligence official who infiltrated Hindu extremist groups as part of his official duties. But no military officer backed his contention.
“We spoke with around half a dozen military officials who were Col Purohit’s colleagues but none of them supported his claim. There was no evidence produced by him either,” said an investigator.
(With inputs from Charul Shah in Mumbai)