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2008 Malegaon blast: Lt Col Purohit, accused of giving RDX to Hindu extremists, gets bail

Lt Col Shrikant Prasad Purohit’s arrest, among the first of a group of Hindus suspected of carrying out bombings in Muslim-majority areas, raised the possibility of a new source of militant violence in India.

india Updated: Aug 21, 2017 21:53 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Malegaon blast,2008 Malegaon blast,Lt Col Purohit
Malegaon blast accused Lt Colonel Shrikant Purohit has spent almost nine years in judicial custody. (File Photo)

The Supreme Court granted bail on Monday to army officer Shrikant Prasad Purohit, the main accused in the deadly bombing of a Muslim-majority, textile town in Maharashtra nine years ago.

Lt Col Purohit denies he provided the explosives for the September 29, 2008 attack in Malegaon town that killed six people, most of them returning from prayers at a local mosque. The officer’s bail plea was rejected by the Bombay High Court last year. He has spent almost nine years in judicial custody.

Purohit’s arrest, among the first of a group of Hindus suspected of carrying out bombings in Muslim-majority areas, raised the possibility of a new source of militant violence in India involving a radical Hindu fringe.

The 45-year-old officer’s bail is also the latest instance of reprieve for suspected Hindu extremists. A collapse in cases involving right-wing Hindutva groups has coincided with the Bharatiya Janata party’s rise to power over the past three years when the pace of these investigations slackened and many witnesses turned hostile.

Purohit’s bail, opposed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) which is probing the 2008 attack, came months after the acquittal of Swami Aseemanand and six others in the bombing of the Ajmer Sharif mausoleum in Rajasthan a year earlier.

In all, the NIA investigated seven cases in which Hindutva right-wing groups are suspects. These cases – involving attacks where Muslims were targeted -- were handed to the federal agency by the previous UPA government. This is also when the NIA made most of the arrests, including that of Purohit and Aseemanand.

But many of the cases, where the accused belonged to organisations close to the BJP or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have since begun to collapse. In the Ajmer blast, more than three dozen witnesses out of 149 turned hostile or, in other words, refused to confirm to the court what they had earlier told the police and NIA officers.

The trial into the 2007 bombing of the Samjhauta Express train, in which about 70 people were killed, has also seen more than two dozen witnesses rescind their initial statements to the NIA, dealing a blow to the prosecution’s case. Assemanand, an accused in this case as well, was given bail in 2014, which the NIA did not challenge.

The NIA has not been able to arrest any absconding accused in any of the seven cases it investigated since 2014, the year the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance came to power.

In 2015, NIA’s former special public prosecutor, Rohini Salian, disclosed that she had been asked to “go soft’’ on the 2008 Malegaon investigations after the BJP-led government came to power.

On Monday, the top court said it was granting bail to Purohit because of contradiction in the charges filed by Maharashtra’s Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) and the NIA. A special MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act) court had earlier ruled that the Maharastra ATS had wrongly applied this law against Purohit and 10 others, including Pragya Singh Thakur who was given bail earlier this year.

Purohit’s lawyer told the court that he was gathering intelligence on groups associated with “interior terrorism”. The court asked Purohit to give a personal security of Rs 1 lakh and two sureties for the same amount. He was also asked to surrender his passport.

The NIA opposed his bail on the ground that he also faced the serious charge of waging war against the unity and integrity of the country.

First Published: Aug 21, 2017 11:11 IST