Malegaon blast case: MCOCA dropped, terror charges remain against Sadhvi Pragya, Lt Col Purohit
A Special NIA court discharged Sadhvi Pragya, Lt Col Purohit and others from MCOCA charges in the 2008 Malegaon blast case and framed charges for criminal conspiracy.
Seven people, including controversial Hindu leader Pragya Singh Thakur and army officer Prasad Shrikant Purohit, will face trial in the 2008 Malegaon blast case on terrorism and conspiracy charges, a Mumbai court said on Wednesday.
The special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court, however, dropped charges of being members of a terrorist organisation as well as those under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) against the accused.
While dropping charges, special judge SD Tekale refused to accept the federal agency’s stand that there was no proof against Thakur in the blast that left six people dead and 101 injured.
“There is evidence to suggest that the accused number one (Thakur) had knowledge about involvement of her motorcycle,” Tekale said.
Thakur “had also expressed dissatisfaction about causing less casualties in the blast. Hence it is difficult to accept submissions on behalf of the NIA and the accused number one that she had no concern with the present crime,” the court added.
The NIA court said the seven accused will be charged under section 16 (punishment for terrorist act) and 18 (punishment for conspiracy) of the Unlawful Assembly (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The former carries the death penalty as maximum punishment and the latter life imprisonment. The accused would also face conspiracy and other charges under the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The court scrapped charges under three sections of the UAPA – section 17 (punishment for raising funds for terrorist activities ), section 20 (punishment for being a member of terrorist organisation) and section 23 (aiding and abetting terrorist activities).
Other than Thakur and Purohit, former army officer Ramesh Upadhyay, Sameer Kulkarni, Ajay Rahirkar, Sudhakar Dwivedi alias Swami Amritanand and Sudhakar Chaturvedi will face trial. The special court dropped all charges against three accused, Shiv Narayan Kalsangra, Shyam Sahu and Praveen Takkalki.
The court also dropped charges against two other accused -- Rakesh Dhawde and Jagdish Mhatre. But the duo will face trial under the Arms Act for allegedly giving arms and ammunition training. The case against Dhawde would now be shifted to Pune while Mhatre’s case would be conducted in a court in Thane.
All accused are out on bail.
At around 9.30 pm on September 29, 2008, a bomb kept on a motorcycle exploded near Hamidia Masjid in Malegaon, a communally sensitive textile town in the Nasik district of northern Maharashtra.
Investigations into blast became one of India’s most high-profile probes with numerous twists and turns. Within months of the 2008 blast, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Maharashtra police arrested alleged mastermind Thakur, whose motorcycle was allegedly used for the blast.
The ATS then arrested Lieutenant Colonel Purohit, who was accused of floating an organisation to create a separate Hindu nation with its own Constitution. He allegedly brought explosives from Kashmir during his posting and stored it in his house. Upadhyay is accused of helping the group prepare bombs. Dhawde, who dealt in antique weapons in Pune, allegedly held several training camps for the blast.
In all, the ATS arrested 11 people in October and November 2008 and said the attack was planned by Hindu right-wing groups to target Malegaon’s Muslim population.
In April 2011, the probe was transferred to the NIA, who added five more people to the list of accused. The agency also re-recorded the statements of 11 of the ATS’ 452 witnesses who claimed they had been interrogated under duress.
In a chargesheet filed on May 13, 2016, the agency said prosecution against six accused, including Thakur and Purohit, was not maintainable, and revoked MCOCA. The agency also accused the ATS of having coerced and manipulated witnesses.
With agency inputs