Mumbai : On Friday, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) gave a clean chit to Malegaon blast key accused Sadhvi Pragnya Singh Thakur and five others, dropping terror charges against them and paving the way for their early release from prison.
But eight more accused, including Colonel Srikant Purohit, will continue to be prosecuted for their role in the September 2008 terror bombing that claimed at least seven lives in the Muslim majority town of Maharashtra.
The NIA in its supplementary charges filed before a special court here decided to drop terror charges under the dreaded Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) against all the accused, an official said. Confessions before a police officer are admissible in a court under the law.
However, they will now be prosecuted under the lesser stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, for their role in the bombing that had brought to fore the so-called “right-wing terror” in India. Most of the accused in such terror cases were linked to Hindutva groups, including the Rashtriya Jagran Manch and Abhinav Bharat.
The Malegaon blasts accused given clean chit include the Sadhvi, Shiv Narain Kalsangra, Shyam Bhavarlal Sahu, Pravin Takkalki alias Mutalik, Lokesh Sharma and Dhan Singh Choudhury.
“During investigations, sufficient evidences have not been found against (the accused) and the NIA has submitted in the final report that the prosecution against them is not maintainable,” the agency said, adding that no offence was established under the MCOCA in this case against anybody.
The premier probe agency did not rely on the confessionals recorded by the Mumbai Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) under the dreaded MCOCA.
The Sadhvi’s lawyer Sanjiv Punalekar told IANS that the NIA had decided to drop charges against her because there was no sufficient evidence to prosecute her.
“The charges against the six accused have been dropped while the charge sheet is being filed against the other remaining accused,” Punalekar told IANS.
The six accused were likely to be released from prisons soon, he told reporters.
The Malegaon blast was the first terror case involving the hitherto unknown “Hindu extremists” and was initially investigated by police and the ATS later. The case finally went to the NIA which was formed in 2009, months after the November 16, 2008, Mumbai terror attack.
Then ATS chief Hemant Karkare, who was killed in the Mumbai terror attack, initially led the probe and named 14 accused. Two more were declared absconding. The NIA earlier also maintained the list of the accused.
The Malegaon blast case probe had riled the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other right-wing groups, accusing the then Congress-led government of giving religious colour to terrorism by going after Hindutva activists without any evidence against them.
On Friday when the charges against the main accused were dropped, the Congress’ Digvijaya Singh hit out at the NIA and the BJP-led government for safeguarding “terrorists”. He also lashed out at the NIA for invalidating Hemant Karkare’s probe.
“They are saying that Karkare filed a wrong report. We know you want to safeguard them (the accused) and we also know you have links with those who are involved in terror activities. They should at least spare a martyr,” Digvijaya Singh said.
But the government denied there was any political interference in probe.
Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said: “The law is taking its natural course. The investigators now have the freedom to investigate without pressure unlike during the previous regime.”