Denial of bail to Sadhvi Pragya puts focus on NIA’s ‘shoddy’ probe
When the National Investigation Agency (NIA) surprised everyone last month by dropping charges against controversial Hindu leader Pragya Thakur, many thought it was the end of the road in the 2008 Malegaon blast trials.india Updated: Jul 01, 2016 07:43 IST
When the National Investigation Agency (NIA) surprised everyone last month by dropping charges against controversial Hindu leader Pragya Thakur, many thought it was the end of the road in the 2008 Malegaon blast trials.
Hardline right-wing groups cheered the decision and called Thakur’s prosecution a witch hunt as the NIA alleged the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) planted bombs on some of the suspects.
But barely had their euphoria died down when a Mumbai court denied bail to Thakur on Tuesday.
Behind this dramatic U-turn lay a web of witness retractions, shoddy probe allegations and accusations that the NIA was trying to go soft in what is the most sensational of all alleged saffron terror cases.
At the heart of the years-long probe is Thakur, a shadowy figure with ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and controversial right-wing groups that have been linked to the 2008 blast that killed six and injured 100 in the Muslim-majority town.
The victims’ advocates say in its haste to let Thakur off the hook, the NIA assumed the judiciary’s role in evaluating the evidence collected by the ATS. The agency also junked all evidence collected by the ATS, something that the victim’s say set the probe back by years and helped the suspects.
“The NIA was asked to further investigate and gather new evidence. But in the last five years, they just spoke to the witnesses whose statements the ATS had recorded and wrote their retraction,” said Sharif Shaikh, an advocate for the blast victims. “This is not how a central agency should work. They should have gone deeper and probed it to a conclusive end.”
The victims say the NIA appeared keen to distance Thakur from the case, and the agency repeatedly sought to dissociate the Hindu leader from her motorcycle that was used to carry out the blast. The agency said the bike was sold before the blasts.
But the court rejected the NIA’s stand, saying that Thakur’s defence couldn’t be established before she faced trial and that she couldn’t escape association with the motorcycle that was registered in her name.
The judge said her presence at a blast conspiracy meet in Bhopal was also established by evidence at hand.
Experts say the NIA should have let the court decide Thakur’s fate after trial. “The charge sheet by the previous agency can’t be washed out and accused can’t be exonerated. At the most the agency should present their findings and put it before the court. The accused have to face trial and it is the court who should decide the case,” said YP Singh, former IPS-turned-lawyer.
The flip-flops bolstered growing chatter that the government is trying to shield the suspects; the rumours were triggered last year after a former prosecutor alleged she was pressurised to go slow in the case.
Now, as Thakur’s legal team readies for a fresh bail plea in the high court, will the agency go back and gather more evidence against the same people they cleared of all charges? The saga in the 2008 Malegaon blast is far from over.