Dayanand Pandey, one of the accused, being produced in a Mumbai court on Thursday. (Express Photo by Prashant Nadkar)
Significantly watering down the 2008 Malegaon blasts case, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has decided not to name Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur as an accused in its chargesheet to be filed in a Mumbai court Friday. This sets the stage for her early release from jail.
The chargesheet is likely to mention that the investigation conducted by former Maharashtra ATS chief Hemant Karkare, later killed in the 26/11 terror attack, was flawed, that the evidence produced against Colonel Prasad Purohit, another key accused, had been fabricated, and statements of witnesses were taken under duress.
However, Purohit will remain a key accused in the chargesheet to be filed by NIA.
In all likelihood, the chargesheet will state that the ATS planted explosives in Purohit’s living quarters at the Deolali Army camp at the time of his arrest in 2008. “We have evidence to show that the RDX was planted by ATS,” an NIA officer said.
The agency has decided to drop charges under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA)against Purohit and all other accused. They will now be charged under provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the chargesheet will be filed in the UAPA court in Mumbai.
It is learnt that the NIA has also given a clean chit to at least three other accused who, the agency claims, had a peripheral role and were not aware of the conspiracy behind the Malegaon blasts on September 29, 2008 that killed four people and injured 79 others.
In an interview to The Indian Express on June 24, 2015, Rohini Salian, who was the special public prosecutor in the case, said she had been under pressure from the NIA to go “soft” on the accused ever since “the new government came to power” at the Centre. In October, after she was removed as the case prosecutor, she named the NIA officer who had contacted her.
Prosecutor alleged pressure in an interview last June. Click for story
The Maharashtra ATS, which had earlier filed a chargesheet in the case, named 14 people as accused including Thakur and Purohit.
Sources said the decision not to charge Thakur, a former office-bearer of the ABVP, was taken because of the “weak evidence” against her and the fact that MCOCA charges had been dropped against the accused.
“The only material evidence against her was the motorcycle on which the bomb was kept. This motorcycle was in her name but was being used by Ramchandra Kalsangra. Investigations have proved it was with him for two years prior to the blast. He was the one who would get it repaired and pay for its maintenance. Witness statements proved it,” an officer claimed.
Sources claimed the evidence against Thakur on her participation in the conspiracy was “thin”.
“There is not a single statement recorded before a magistrate (under Section 164 of the CrPC) that says she was part of the conspiracy meetings. All witness statements have been recorded under MCOCA before a DCP (deputy commissioner of police). Once MCOCA charges are dropped, these statements have no evidentiary value. There are just as many statements saying she was not part of the meetings,” another officer said.
Under MCOCA, a statement recorded before a DCP-rank officer is admissible as evidence in court. A statement recorded under Section 164 of CrPC before a magistrate is also admissible in court.
The NIA evidence against Purohit, sources said, establish he was an integral part of Abhinav Bharat, the organisation that allegedly plotted the blasts. The probe uncovered a money trail leading to Purohit.
Sources said the NIA had found that he used the organisation’s money to buy plots in Nashik.
The NIA will also list evidence in the form of phone intercepts. In one such intercept, he is allegedly telling the other accused to flee and destroy evidence since police had got whiff of their involvement. The agency matched his voice sample with that in the intercept.
“There are several statements, recorded before a magistrate, which say he was part of conspiracy meetings. Against him, we have good evidence,” an NIA officer said.
The decision to drop MCOCA charges against the accused was taken since the application itself was flawed, NIA sources claimed. Sources said only one accused, Rakesh Dhawde, qualified to be charged under the law which requires that the accused must have at least two chargesheets against him, and proof that the crime was committed for pecuniary gains.
“All others were charged for association. Even the two chargesheets against Dhawde were an afterthought. He was arrested in November 2008 for his involvement in the 2003 Parbhani blast and 2004 Jalna blast. The day after his arrest, he was chargesheeted. This was used as justification for slapping MCOCA,” the officer said.
The NIA had earlier sought the opinion of the Law Ministry whether MCOCA charges could be dropped. The Ministry asked the agency to apply its own mind on the available evidence.
The NIA, which took over the case almost three years after the Maharashtra ATS filed a chargesheet in the case, re-examined all the accused, witnesses and evidence presented in the ATS chargesheet. It also recorded fresh statements, many of which exonerated the accused.
What ATS had on Sadhvi, Purohit
* Hero Honda motorcycle with bombs was owned by Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur. * She was the first to be arrested by Maharashtra ATS on October 24, 2008. * Sadhvi attended most meetings since 2006 on targeting Muslim-majority areas. * At Bhopal meeting on April 11, 2008, Purohit said he would provide explosives. * Sadhvi said she would arrange men for the blasts in Malegaon. * Sadhvi knew Sunil Joshi, Ramchandra Kalsangra. Her motorcycle was with Kalsangra. * ATS said Purohit floated Abhinav Bharat in 2007 for a Hindu Rashtra. * Purohit brought RDX from Kashmir where he was posted earlier. * Purohit assembled bombs in Pune with Sudhakar Chaturvedi, Kalsangra.