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.
MUMBAI — The National Investigation Agency (NIA) suffered a blow as a Mumbai court said on Wednesday that 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.
The special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court, however, dropped the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) charges against the accused, which is punishable by up to life in prison.
The accused now with six others will face trial under Section 18 (conspiracy) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention (UAPA) Act and other sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
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.
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“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, while filing a charge sheet in the case last year, gave a clean chit to Sadhvi Pragya and three others saying it found no evidence against them and they should be discharged from the case
All the above accused filed pleas to be discharged from the case, which the court rejected. However, the court agreed that MCOCA charges should be dropped. The next hearing in the case will be held on 15 January.
Under the MCOCA, an accused cannot obtain bail easily. Once these charges are invoked, the police is liable to get custody for the accused for a maximum of 30 days, as opposed to the 14-day limit under the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
However, in the Malegaon blast case, all accused are already out on bail and the NIA court said that all the previous bonds and sureties submitted by them will continue. The case has seen various twists and turns as the investigation was passed on to various agencies.
Soon after the blast in Malegaon, a town in north Maharashtra with a sizeable Muslim population, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), which probed the case first, booked Noorul Huda, Raees Ahmed, Salman Farsi, Farogh Magdumi, Shaikh Mohammed Ali, Asif Khan, Mohammed Zahid, Abrar Ahmed and Shabbir Masiullah Batteriwala for the blast which claimed six lives when an improvised explosive device strapped to a motorcycle went off while 101 persons were injured. The CBI, took over the case a year later, endorsed the line of investigation taken by ATS.
However, the NIA, to which the probe was transferred in 2011, filed a charge sheet absolving them of all charges, and instead named four others, including Sadhvi Pragya and Colonel Purohit, who were members of a Hindu extremist organisation.
Following this, in April last year, a special court in Mumbai discharged them from the case, as the NIA submitted that it had found no evidence against them.
A powerful bomb exploded near the crowded Nooraji Mosque in Malegaon on the evening of 29 September, 2008, killing six and injuring 100 others, around 300 kilometres north of Mumbai in Nashik district.
It was the second such blast in the Muslim-dominated powerloom town which was earlier shaken by a similar blast on 8 September, 2006, which claimed 37 lives and injured more than 250.
Initially, the 2008 case was probed by the Maharashtra Police and the ATS. In April 2011, it was taken over by the NIA. — Agencies