The government is learnt to have asked the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to assess whether the charges under a stringent Maharashtra law should be dropped against 2008 Malegaon blast accused Col Prasad Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur. The agency is preparing to file a chargesheet in the case in a month’s time.
The NIA had in January asked the Law Ministry to seek an opinion from the AG on whether the charges under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) should be dropped against the eight arrested persons. No written reply was sent to the NIA by the ministry, but AG Mukul Rohatgi seems to have made his intentions clear during a meeting with senior NIA officers last month. “He said the NIA should assess its evidence and invoke MCOCA if it finds it a fit case or else drop it,” said a Home Ministry official.
The removal of charges under MCOCA may considerably weaken the case as the Act provides for confessions made in front of an SP-rank officer to be admissible in court as evidence. “Such statements form key evidence against some of the main accused,” said a senior NIA officer.
Eight of the accused, including Lt Col Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya, are in jail under MCOCA charges. They have also challenged application of MCOCA in the case.
Now it is up to NIA DG Sharad Kumar to take a call on whether MCOCA charges should be dropped. “Investigation is complete. The chargesheet is being written. It may take over just a month to file the chargesheet. The call on MCOCA will be taken in the final stages,” the NIA officer said.
Meanwhile, sources said, four witnesses in the case have retracted their statements in which they implicated key accused. The witnesses were identified as Dr R P Singh, Yogendra Bhadana, Dharmendra Bairagi and Captain Nitin Joshi. Singh and Bhadana retracted their statements in an NIA special court in Delhi. Bairagi and Joshi retracted their statements earlier in Maharashtra and Indore. Joshi had lodged a complaint with Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission that his statement was taken by the Maharashtra ATS under duress.
The NIA has re-examined all witnesses mentioned in the chargesheet filed by the Maharashtra ATS in the case. “When we interrogated them, they said they never made such statements. So we asked them to say it in front of a magistrate. Many other witnesses have objected to the language used by ATS. All that has also been corrected during re-examination,” an NIA officer said.
The Supreme Court had, on April 15, 2015, said there was no evidence to charge the accused under MCOCA, at that stage.