PUNE/NEW DELHI: Lt Col Shrikant Prasad Purohit, who has been languishing in jail for almost nine years for his alleged role in 2008 Malegaon blast case, was granted bail on Monday by the Supreme Court (SC) observing there were contradictions in the charge sheets filed by the Maharashtra ATS and the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
The apex court also said that “right to bail is not to be denied merely because of the sentiments of the community against the accused.”
The case was first investigated by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) which held that Abhinav Bharat, a right-wing Hindu extremist outfit, had carried out the blast and Purohit and others were members of the organisation.
Later, the case was handed over to the National Investigating Agency (NIA) which filed a supplementary charge sheet and gave clean chit to few accused including Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, whose motorcycle was used in the blast. Following this, Thakur walked free, while others including Purohit remained in jail pending trial.
Purohit had moved the apex court after his bail was rejected the lower courts.
On Monday, a bench of Justices R K Agrawal and Abhay Mohan Sapre of the Supreme Court, while taking note of variations in the charge sheets filed by the ATS and NIA, said that fresh ground for consideration of Purohit’s bail plea was made out, as at the relevant time, he was an intelligence officer of the Indian Army.
“In our considered opinion, there are material contradictions in the charge sheets filed by the ATS Mumbai and the NIA which are required to be tested at the time of trial and this court cannot pick or choose one version over the other. Liberty of a citizen is undoubtedly important but this is to balance with the security of the community. A balance is required to be maintained between the personal liberty of the accused and the investigational rights of the agency. It must result in minimum interference with the personal liberty of the accused and the right of the agency to investigate the case,” the judges observed.
The court, however, made it clear that the grant of bail to Purohit, shall be no ground for similar relief to other accused in the case and each plea for relief will be considered on its own merits.
Senior lawyer Harish Salve, who represented Purohit, argued that prima facie, there is no case against Purohit as all witnesses have retracted their ‘confessional statements’ which were recorded by the ATS under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).
“Now that MCOCA has been withdrawn in the case, then these statements are not valid. Further, there is no evidence against Purohit. He was a Military Intelligence Officer at the relevant time and had participated in the meetings held at various places like Faridabad, Bhopal etc in discharge of his duties as such for collecting intelligence and creating new sources and the said fact has also been revealed in the Report of Court of Inquiry (CoI) conducted by the Army him as well as in the reply filed by the Ministry of Defence and the documents filed by the said Ministry in the Special Court. It has come on record that Purohit had informed his superior officers in Military Intelligence about details of the said meetings. It was a ‘covert operation’ of Military Intelligence,” he added.
NIA OPPOSE PUROHIT’S BAIL
Maninder Singh, the Additional Solicitor General (ASG) of the state, strongly objected to bail being granted to Purohit by submitting that ‘he was the main conspirator and prima facie, there is sufficient material on record to prove his involvement in the alleged offence.’
“Merely because the charges have been dropped under the MCOC Act, it does not mean that there is no material against the appellant (Purohit) herein in respect of other charges. The NIA has given clean chit to Thakur and some other accused person but it has not exonerated Purohit from the charges levelled against him which clearly proves that the NIA has also found sufficient material against him. The offences alleged against him as drawn by the ATS are supplemented and supported by NIA officers in their detailed investigation. Having regard to the gravity and seriousness of the offence, which were in the nature of waging war against the unity and integrity of the nation, and, that too, by violent means, the bail application of the appellant could not have been allowed and it has rightly been rejected by the courts below and no interference is sought for by this Court,” Singh argued.
MALEGAON BLAST CASE
Six persons were killed in a bomb blast around 9.35 pm on September 29, 2008, at a market packed with Muslims breaking their Ramzan fast in Malegaon, a communally sensitive textile town in Nashik district. The 4,000-page charge sheet had alleged that Malegaon was selected as the blast target because of a sizeable Muslim population there. It had named Thakur, Purohit and co-accused, Swami Dayanand Pandey as key conspirators. However, Thakur was given clean chit by NIA last year.