The NIA’s decision to drop charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) in the 2008 Malegaon blast allows key accused Pragya Singh Thakur to walk free. But Lt Col Prasad Purohit, another key accused, will continue to face charges as no military official supported his claim that he was a bona fide intelligence official who had infiltrated extremist Hindu groups. Seven people were killed in a blast at Malegaon on September 29, 2008.
Thakur was among the first to be arrested, in October 2008. “The evidence against Thakur was insufficient to prosecute her,” said NIA chief Sharad Kumar.
Thakur had been chargesheeted along with 13 others by the Maharashtra Anti-terrorism Squad (ATS), which probe the case before the NIA. In its investigation, the NIA claimed to have found many holes in the evidence collected by the ATS against Thakur.
The ATS claimed that Thakur attended various meetings – in Faridabad, Nagpur, Deolali, Bhopal, Ujjain – of Abhinav Bharat, an outfit floated by Lt Col Purohit, at which plans for terror attacks were discussed.
“But the evidence with regard to these meetings came from confessional statements of three accused – Sudhakar Dhar Dwevedi, Rakesh Dhawade and Praveen Takkalki – recorded under MCOCA. But once MCOCA was dropped, the statements lost their evidentiary value and this weakened the case against Thakur,” said an NIA official.
Confessional statements recorded under the MCOCA are admissible as evidence in court, but the NIA said that the ATS had invoked MCOCA in haste. An accused needs to have been charge-sheeted in two earlier cases before the MCOCA can be invoked against him or her. The ATS charged an accused, Rakesh Dhawade, under MCOCA and, with that, invoked the law in the Malegaon case.
The ATS had first arrested Dhawade for two earlier blasts, in Maharashtra’s Parbhani (2003) and Jalna (2004), on November 12 November 15, 2008, respectively. According to the NIA charge sheet, a case was registered for the Parbhani blast in November 2003, against Sanjay Choudhary and Himanshu Panse. In September 2006 the first supplementary charge sheet was filed against Maruthi Keshav Wagh and Yogesh Deshpande. “The second supplementary charge sheet was filed against Dhawade on November 13, 2008 after his arrest on November 11, 2008, ie within two days of his arrest (in the Parbhani case),” the NIA said. “This raises considerable doubt on the integrity of invoking of MCOCA by ATS,” the charge sheet read. “Once the legal requirement for MCOCA becomes suspect, how can we apply in it the Malegaon case?” added an NIA official.
Another key piece of evidence against Thakur was that she owned the motorcycle that was fitted with the explosive. But an NIA official said, “The motorcycle was owned by Thakur but it was being used by Ramchandra Kalsangra, an absconding accused. Witnesses said the motorcycle was in his possession for at least one-and-a-half years before the blast.
The NIA also decided not charge another accused, Praveen Takkalki, as the only evidence against him was his own statement, recorded under MCOCA.
But Purohit, a serving military intelligence official, will continue to face charges as the evidence against him remains at the “threshold of prosecution”, according to a source.