TEN YEARS after a bomb blast in Malegaon near Nashik killed six and injured 101, an NIA special court Tuesday framed charges against the seven accused, including Army officer Lt Colonel Prasad Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur.
The accused will now face trial under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for conspiring and abetting a terror act, and other charges, including murder and criminal conspiracy. All seven accused, currently out on bail, pleaded not guilty.
On Tuesday, Purohit, through his lawyer Shrikant Shivde, sought the framing of charges to be deferred till he gets an opportunity to approach the Supreme Court for a stay till the applicability of UAPA is decided. Shivde told the court that framing of the terror charge against Purohit was “worse than death penalty” for him.
Special Judge V S Padalkar, however, said that no stay was given by higher courts to the proceedings. The High Court had this week said that it was not inclined to grant a stay to the framing of charges, even as it admitted the appeal filed by Purohit against the application of UAPA. “A special court (has been) constituted to decide the present matter but even after 10 years, charges have not been framed,” the NIA court said.
The court framed charges against the seven accused, including Purohit (46), Pragya Singh Thakur (47), Sameer Kulkarni (47), Ajay Rahirkar (49), Sudhakar Dhar Dwivedi (49), Major (retd) Ramesh Upadhyay (66) and Sudhakar Chaturvedi (46).
The court said that the seven accused, along with absconding accused Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange, hatched a criminal conspiracy between January and October 2008 to spread activities of the organisation, Abinav Bharat, and to strike terror and create a communal rift. The court said the absconding accused had on September 29, 2008, fitted an explosive device on a motorcycle and caused the blast.
Sadhvi Pragya, who was lodged in a jail in Madhya Pradesh before being granted bail last year, was present before the Mumbai court in a wheelchair. Even as he signed documents pertaining to the charges against him, Purohit told the court that there was never a question about his honesty and integrity.
The charges against them include section 16 (punishment for a terrorist act) and section 18 (punishment for conspiracy) of UAPA, sections of IPC, including murder, attempt to murder and voluntarily causing hurt, and sections of the Explosive Substances Act. The court adjourned the case till November 2, when a list of documents and witnesses will be submitted by the prosecution.
Last December, the special court had dropped charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime (MCOCA) against all the accused, while discharging three others — Shivnarayan Kalsangra, Shyam Sahu and Praveen Takkalki. Two other accused — Rakesh Dhawade and Jagdish Mhatre — were discharged of all other charges and booked only under the Arms Act.
The seven accused had also sought to be discharged from charges under UAPA. On October 20, however, the trial court said that the issue of UAPA and the validity of sanction granted by the competent authority will be decided at the time of the trial.
While the accused remained in custody for nearly nine years since their arrests, all are out on bail since August-September 2017.
Reacting to the verdict, Aparna Purohit, wife of Lt Col Purohit, said: “Now that charges have been framed, as part of the procedure, we will face trial. At the same time, our petition that the UAPA is not applicable to the case, is still pending in the High Court. If that petition is accepted, it will change the outlook of the case. The next hearing on that petition is scheduled on November 21.”
Vishal Upadhyay, son of Major (retd) Upadhyay said: “We have various documents that we have got from the Army and also under Right to Information Act, which will be the part of the defence. Also, some of the witnesses have retracted their statements, which has strengthened our case.”
Sadhvi Pragya said the charges were “false” and part of “a Congress conspiracy”. —(With Sushant Kulkarni in Pune)