The trial in the 2008 Malegaon blast case will be presided over by additional sessions judge V S Padalkar. A Union Home Ministry notification issued last week announced his appointment on the recommendation of the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court.
In December 2017, the previous judge S D Tekale was transferred to Uttan’s Maharashtra Judicial Academy, in what authorities claimed was a routine transfer. In the same month before his tenure ended, he passed an order on the discharge applications filed by all accused, including Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Purohit. He was presiding over the case since 2015. Since the past few months, the case is being heard as an additional charge by other judges till the notification was in process with only formal dates being given.
“The Central Government, on the recommendation of the Hon’ble Chief Justice, High Court of Bombay, hereby appoints Shri V S Padalkar, Judge, City Civil Court & Additional Sessions Judge, Mumbai, as the Judge to preside over the said Special Court,” the notification passed on April 18 reads.
A blast had occurred on September 9, 2008 in Malegaon, killing six people and injuring 101. The case is now at the stage of framing of charges with all accused currently out on bail. The trial is expected to commence under the new judge.
The new appointee, Padalkar, is currently presiding over the 2003 custodial death case of Khwaja Yunus, a software engineer from Parbhani, who was picked up for interrogation in the Ghatkopar blast case but was allegedly tortured in custody, leading to his death. One witness has been examined in the case so far.
In the said case, last week Padalkar passed an order to keep an application — filed by the then special public prosecutor Dhiraj Mirajkar to make four policemen accused — on hold, till the pending appeal on the same before the Supreme Court is decided.
The Maharashtra Government had not given prosecution sanction earlier for these four policemen. Mirajkar has been removed by the government.
On December 27, Special Judge Tekale had dropped Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act against all accused, while ruling that the accused, including Thakur, Purohit and five others, will face terror charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 and other charges, including murder and criminal conspiracy.
Tekale had rejected the discharge application of Thakur, observing that it was difficult to accept her claim that she had no concern with the blast even though she had been exonerated by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in its supplementary chargesheet filed in May 2016, also before him. Earlier, he had also rejected her bail plea in June 2016 despite the NIA clean-chit to her. The Bombay High Court had granted her bail in April. Following Purohit’s bail, granted by the Supreme Court, all other accused were also given bail.