New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday granted bail to Lt. Colonel Shrikant Prasad Purohit in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, in which seven people were killed and 100 injured after a bomb strapped to a motorcycle exploded in Maharashtra’s Malegaon town.
The court’s order came nearly a month after the National Investigation Agency (NIA) opposed the bail on the ground that Purohit was one of the key alleged conspirators behind the blast. The NIA informed the apex court in July that Purohit was founder member of a right wing Hindu group called Abhinav Bharat and had collected funds that had been used to promote “unlawful acts."
In 2009, a chargesheet filed by the state’s anti-terrorism squad (ATS) named 14 people, including Purohit, Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and co-accused Swami Dayanand Pandey as the key conspirators in the blast. Investigations revealed that the blast had allegedly been executed by Abhinav Bharat.
Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and 44-year-old Purohit were arrested in 2008.
The charges against Purohit were framed under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention ACT (UAPA) and MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act).
However, in 2011, the NIA took over the probe, and citing several gaps in the ATS probe, dropped the charges against Purohit and all other accused under MCOCA, while upholding the charges under UAPA.
Arguing for Purohit, and observing that there was no prima facie evidence against him, senior lawyer Harish Salve informed the Supreme Court that despite the fact that Purohit had been in jail for the last nine years, no charges had been framed against him.
“Earlier the bail applications were rejected mainly on the basis of the confessional statements of the co-accused under the MCOC Act and now, as the charges under the MCOC Act have been dropped, the confessional statements of the co-accused are required to be excluded from consideration…there is no incriminating material against the appellant (Purohit) herein so as to deny him the benefit of bail," Salve argued.
Salve also informed the apex court that the investigations carried out by the ATS was “tainted", with witnesses having complained of “harassment and torture meted out by the officers of the ATS". This rendered the statements and confessions inadmissible as they had been “extracted subjecting the witness and co-accused to torture and duress."
The NIA has, so far, maintained that there was sufficient audio-visual evidence against Purohit to indict him in the case. Purohit however, claimed that he was being made a scapegoat in the investigation and that meetings that eventually culminated in the attack were actually “part of a covert military operation."
In April, the Bombay high court while granting bail to Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, rejected Purohit’s bail plea after the NIA informed the court that “Purohit had prepared a separate ‘Constitution’ for ‘Hindu Rashtra’ with a separate saffron flag. He also discussed about taking revenge for the (alleged) atrocities committed by the Muslims on Hindus."
Purohit had then, in April, moved the Supreme Court against the Bombay high court’s order.
The son of a bank officer, Purohit a native of Pune, joined the Indian Army in 1994. He was commissioned in the Maratha Light Infantry. However, he was shifted to Military Intelligence at some point of time. He has done a stint in Jammu and Kashmir.
Purohit was posted in Deolali in Maharashtra as a liaison officer when he allegedly became involved with Abhinav Bharat, a right wing group, which had been set up by another former army officer; Major Upadhyay. He too is in jail in the Malegaon blast case.
Purohit continues to maintain that he became involved with the group as part of his intelligence gathering activities and that he was passing on all the information gathered to his seniors.