A special court Wednesday dropped charges under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) against 12 accused, including Pragya Singh Thakur and Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Purohit, in the 2008 Malegaon blast case. Thakur, Purohit and five other accused will, however, face trial under sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), and for murder and criminal conspiracy. While three of the 12 were discharged from the case, two other accused will face trial under the Arms Act only.
With MCOCA being dropped, the prosecution may find it difficult to use the confessional statements of the accused as evidence against them or their co-accused. While the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), which investigated the case before it was handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in 2011, had named 14 accused including Thakur, in its supplementary chargesheet filed in May 2016, the NIA had dropped Thakur’s name. The NIA had also not opposed her discharge application that was filed subsequently.
Special Judge S D Tekale, however, said it was difficult to accept Thakur’s claim that she had nothing to do with the attack. Based on available evidence, including the statement of a prosecution witness, it could be said that Thakur “had knowledge about the involvement of her motorcycle in the blast”, the court observed. The NIA, in its chargesheet, had said the witness had filed a complaint with the judicial magistrate at Indore in 2008, claiming that he was illegally detained and tortured by the ATS which forced him to depose.
The Maharashtra ATS, which arrested Thakur on October 23, 2008, had claimed in its chargesheet that absconding accused Ram Chandra Kalsangra had used the motorcycle owned by Thakur in the blasts in Malegaon on September 29, 2008, in which six people were killed and 101 were injured. While dropping charges under MCOCA, the Arms Act and three sections of the UAPA, the court partially allowed the discharge applications of the accused.
Seven of the accused — Thakur, Purohit, retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay, Sameer Kulkarni, Ajay Rahirkar, Sudhakar Dwivedi and Sudhakar Chaturvedi — will still face terror charges under Section 16 (punishment for terrorist act) and Section 18 (punishment for conspiracy) of the UAPA. Charges filed under Section 17 (punishment for raising funds for terrorist act), Section 20 (punishment for being a member of a terrorist gang or organisation), and Section 23, which pertains to enhanced penalties under the UAPA were, however, dropped by the court.
The accused will also be tried under Indian Penal Code Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 324 (voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means), 326 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees), and 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), and Sections 3, 4, 5, and 6 of The Explosive Substances Act. The court discharged three accused — Shivnarayan Kalsangra, Shyam Sahu and Praveen Takkalki — who were not named in the NIA’s chargesheet. Two other accused, Rakesh Dhawade and Jagdish Mhatre, will face trial only under The Arms Act.
The Special Court observed that it had considered the chargesheets filed by the ATS (2009) and NIA (2016), saying that the NIA’s investigation report had “not wiped out” the initial investigation done by the ATS. The ATS had claimed the accused were part of the Abhinav Bharat, set up in 2004. To invoke provisions of MCOCA, which requires two previous chargesheets against at least one accused, the ATS had relied on two criminal cases against Rakesh Dhawade in Jalna and Parbhani.
“There is no material to show that in the year 2002-03, when the incidents at Jalna and Parbhani took place, Abhinav Bharat was in existence. There is also no material to show that during the period, Dhawade or any other accused in those cases had any connection with present accused persons at that time. In such circumstances, it cannot be said that accused persons including Dhawade committed the acts in Parbhani and Jalna as a member or on behalf of crime syndicate Abhinav Bharat,” observed the court. The NIA had said the chargesheets against Dhawade in the Jalna and Parbhani case were filed with the sole purpose of fulfilling the condition for invoking MCOCA. Last year, Dhawade was acquitted in both the Jalna and Parbhani cases.
“Moreover, immediate filing of supplementary chargesheet against Dhawade by ATS in Parbhani and Jalna case after his arrest, in this case speaks volumes. I hold that all accused persons are entitled to be discharged from the offences of MCOCA, as there is no sufficient grounds to proceed against them under MCOCA,” said Special Judge S D Tekale. While a special court had dropped charges under MCOCA in 2009, the Bombay High Court had later restored them. The accused had then approached the Supreme Court, which had expressed doubt on the applicabilty of the Act.
The NIA, in its chargesheet, has claimed that the confessional statements of the accused recorded under MCOCA do not have evidentiary value. The Special Court is expected to frame charges against the accused next month. The same court had rejected Thakur’s bail plea in June 2016, observing there was enough evidence against her. She was subsequently granted bail by the Bombay High Court in April 2017.
While Purohit’s bail plea filed was rejected by the High Court in April, he got relief from the Supreme Court in August 2017. All other accused in custody were also subsequently given bail, with the exception of Dhawade, who has not applied for bail and remains in judicial custody in Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai.