THE SPECIAL court hearing the 2008 Malegaon blast case Wednesday rejected a plea to bar Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, an accused and the BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate in Bhopal, from contesting the elections. The court, however, pulled up the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for stating that there is insufficient evidence against Thakur in the case.
The court was hearing a plea filed by Nisar Ahmed Sayyed Bilal, whose son Sayyed Azhar died in the blast that killed six and injured 101 people.
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In its order, the court said that elections do not fall within its purview. But it also pointed out that since the trial against Thakur is underway, it cannot be said that there is no prima facie evidence against her.
“It is not known as to why this portion is included… by the investigating officer when there is no prayer by the intervener to that effect. This court had rejected her discharge application on December 27, 2017. Only after hearing the accused, the special public prosecutor and the intervener, had the court framed charges against her and other accused. This means that the court found some prima facie evidence in the chargesheet filed by the ATS (Anti-Terrorism Squad) though investigation was taken over by the NIA,” special judge V S Padalkar said.
“Had it been a fact that there was absolutely no case against accused No.1 (Thakur), then at the time of the order on her discharge application, the court would have allowed her plea. But this was not done and the application was rejected,” the court said. It also said the NIA had not challenged the order rejecting her discharge plea.
On Tuesday, the NIA had told the court in its reply that it did not find sufficient evidence to prosecute Thakur in its supplementary chargesheet filed in 2016.
The court, however, described Bilal’s plea as “untenable” since the matter of elections relates to the Election Commission. It said that the court cannot restrict a citizen of India from contesting elections unless he or she is disqualified. Even a criminal who is convicted, or a convict whose sentence is stayed by the court, is entitled to contest elections, it said.
Earlier, Bilal’s lawyer, Hetali Sheth, told the court that Thakur had “misguided” it by seeking exemption from hearings on health grounds while she is seen to be campaigning for the elections. But Thakur’s lawyers, J P Mishra and Prashant Maggu, denied the claim while arguing that exemption had been granted to all accused. They also said that Thakur’s presence in court is not required since some of the witnesses, whose testimony has not been challenged by her, are being examined.
The court said Thakur will have to appear in the case as and when directed by it but her presence at this stage is not “necessary”.
Special public prosecutor for the NIA, Avinash Rasal, also opposed the plea stating that elections came within the purview of the election commission.
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Thakur’s lawyers, meanwhile, claimed that the plea was aimed at gaining “publicity” and “political mileage”. They claimed that Thakur was not ready to contest the polls but had agreed for the sake of a “symbolic ideology”, to show that there is nothing called “saffron terrorism”.
At this point, the court restricted them to arguments pertaining to the plea alone. Thakur’s lawyers also sought to impose costs on Bilal for filing the plea.
Arguing for Bilal, Sheth countered that the father’s loss was “throroughly minimised” by the defence’s “publicity” claim. The court said that being the father of a son who lost his life in the case, he is entitled to seek justice, and rejected the plea to impose costs on Bilal.
Thakur was arrested by the Maharashtra ATS in October 2008 for her alleged involvement in the blast. The probe was taken over by the NIA in 2011. Last December, charges were framed against Thakur and six others. Thakur is currently facing trial on various charges, including murder and criminal conspiracy, under the IPC and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.