January 28, 2022 12:21:11 am
The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on Thursday approached the special court, seeking to attend the ongoing Malegaon 2008 blast trial. Two ATS officers, including the retired investigating officer of the case, were present before the trial court but left after some of the lawyers of the accused objected.
The ATS investigated the case initially before the National Investigation Agency (NIA) took over the probe in 2011. The two officers present before the court on Thursday informed special judge Prashant R Sitre that they were given oral directions by ATS chief Vineet Agarwal to remain present before the court during the proceedings and provide any assistance if required.
Representing the NIA, special public prosecutor Sundeep Sadawarte submitted that he would take instructions from the Central agency on this.
Lawyers for accused Pragya Singh Thakur, Prasad Purohit among others objected to the presence of the officers stating that they were not authorised to attend the trial and had no locus to be present during the proceedings. Accused Sameer Kulkarni, who did not object to the ATS presence during the trial, submitted that the accused do not have any legal provision to object to their presence either.
On being asked if they had any written application or authority letter from the agency, the ATS officers told the court they will take instructions from their seniors and revert on the next date of the hearing.
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In 2018, special public prosecutor for the NIA, Avinash Rasal, who is currently unable to attend court after having contracted Covid, had submitted to the court that ATS officers had not been present in court for two years. He had said that their assistance would be needed and sought for the court to issue directions to the ATS accordingly. The special court had then said that it was for the ATS to decide if it wanted its officers to remain present. It had said that it was for the prosecutor to approach higher authorities to seek assistance and it did not require an order from the court. In 2019, a plea was moved by the intervener in the case, the father of a victim, seeking directions for the ATS to keep its officer present during the trial. The court had then said that it was up to the NIA to seek assistance from the ATS.
The NIA had taken over the case in 2011 and conducted a further probe. It filed a supplementary chargesheet in 2016 against ten accused and dropped MCOCA. It also said that there was no evidence to proceed against Thakur and six others. However, the special court had rejected NIA’s contention on there being no evidence against Thakur. Relying on both ATS and NIA chargesheets, charges were framed against seven accused, including Thakur.
Recently, Maharashtra Home Minister Dilip Walse Patil had said that taking note of witnesses turning hostile in the trial, ATS representative would be asked to remain present before the court. So far, 224 witnesses have been examined in the trial, of which 15 have so far turned hostile. One of the witnesses had submitted that he was pressured into giving a false statement by the ATS.
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