Flip-flops, twists and NIA-ATS showdown plague 2008 Malegaon blasts case
Besides ceaseless twists and turns, the strained ties between the Maharashtra Anti-terrorism Squad (ATS) and National Investigation Agency (NIA) have dubiously characterised and, to some extent, derailed the 2008 Malegaon blasts case.
On September 29, 2008, an “improvised explosive device” went off near Bhiku Chowk in Malegaon, Maharashtra, killing six people and injuring 101.
In January 2009, the ATS had in its charge sheet asserted that it had a watertight case against the accused. But the state agency has seemingly watered down its strident stand since the NIA took over the case in 2011.
The NIA denounced almost all ATS claims in the court, saying that the witness statements were extracted under duress or the evidence was not admissible.
Another point of contention between the two was the applicability of charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA). The ATS pursued the case with the stringent MCOCA charges while the NIA dropped them and exonerated Pragya Singh Thakur and five others.
ATS’ silence in the last two hearing before the Bombay high court has perplexed many, especially at a time when the NIA accused it of having coerced and manipulated witnesses. When asked by the court to clarify its stand over Thakur’s bail in the last hearing, the ATS said since the “probe had been taken over by the NIA and it was for the NIA to oppose… her plea”.
Earlier this week, the Bombay high court asked the trial court to share audio and video recordings — 11 CDs, two DVDs and phone calls — of conversations or meetings among those charged in the case. These tapes, the court observed, “can be crucial evidence to establish” Thakur’s role. Strangely, ATS no longer ‘remembers’ which tapes it had submitted before the trial court.
Besides the confessional statements that the ATS relied upon were later rendered inadmissible. The revelation by a former NIA prosecutor that she was asked to go slow in the case also cast shadow.
NIA and ATS on the collision course
Audio and video recordings of meetings
ATS’ version: The agency in its charge sheet mentioned meetings held in Faridabad, Bhopal, Indore, Kolkata and Ujjain by the accused. A laptop each was seized from Pragya Singh Thakur, Ramesh Upadhyay, Prasad Purohit, and Sudhakar Dwivedi. The hard drives from these laptops were sent to the Kalina laboratory and the ATS retrieved three videos and 37 audiotapes. These tapes revealed that Dwivedi had recorded the proceedings of these meetings on his laptop. Upadhyay, Purohit, Dwivedi and some other accused people attended the Fardiabad meeting held in January 2008. It was at the Bhopal meeting, held in April 2008, when Thakur’s name first cropped up. In the meeting, the ATS claimed, the accused zeroed in on Malegaon as the blast spot and Thakur volunteered to “provide men”. According to the charge sheet, Purohit provided the explosives. In June 2008, at the Indore meeting, Thakur introduced two other accused people — Ramchandra Kalasangra and Sandip Dange — to others. These two men alleged to have planted bombs and were shown ‘missing’ in a recent charge sheet. Recently, an ATS officer claimed that they were gunned down in the police custody in 2008.
NIA’s version: It has claimed that the ATS has never handed over the recordings of these meeting except the Faridabad one which Thakur did not attend. As per the transcript available with the NIA, those who attended the Faridabad meeting included Purohit, Dwivedi, Upadhyay, Himani Savarkar and some RSS leaders. One of ATS officers, Sunil Mohite, who was summoned to HC at the last hearing, said that there might be a video recording of the Bhopal meeting featuring Thakur.
LML Freedom bike
ATS’ version: It said the bike was owned by Thakur and that she gave it to Kalsangra to planting the bomb. It corroborated its claim by submitting the registration papers of the bike and getting the statements of four witnesses.
NIA’s version: Of the 452 witnesses examined by the ATS, the NIA re-examined only 11. The four witnesses were included in the list of the 11 witnesses, but the NIA said the witnesses’s statements were not admissible as they were extracted under duress. However, the NIA said that the ownership of the bike could not prove Thakur’s complicity in the blast
Phone call between Purohit and Thakur
ATS’ version: In a phone conversation in October 2008, Thakur and Purohit discussed, among other things, that they needed to meet Kalsangra and that he must be brought to her ashram to be ‘settled’. The agency claimed the conversation suggested that Thakur was part of the conspiracy.
NIA’s version: It claimed that ATS did not send the audio clip of Thakur to be verified at the forensic lab and therefore could not match her voice samples
Phone call between Purohit and Upadhyay
ATS’ version: In the conversation on October 23, 2008, Purohit and Upadhyay referred to one “Singh Sahab” and “Mr Singh” which, the ATS claimed, was the code name for Thakur who was arrested on the same day. The two were heard, saying, “That means the cat is out of the bag as far as Mr Singh is concerned.” Upadhyay also told Purohit that “She (Thakur) has taken your name.” Purohit also told Upadhyay to not call him on this number as he would soon get a new number.
NIA’s version: It questioned the authenticity of the conversation and the ATS’ methods
On September 29, 2008, at 9.30 pm, a bomb exploded near Bhiku Chowk in Malegaon, Maharashtra. The “improvised explosive device” was fitted upon an LML Freedom motorcycle. Six people were killed and 101 injured in the blast that was probed initially by the Maharashtra ATS and then, taken over by the NIA in 2011. The ATS charged 13 people for the crime.
Last year, the NIA absolved Pragya Singh Thakur, Shivnarayan Kalsangra, Shyam Sahu, Pravin Mutalik alias Takkalki of all charges.