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Malegaon blast case: NIA seeks in-camera court proceedings

The trial in the case began in October last year after a special court framed charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Purohit, Pragya Thakur and others.

Written by Sadaf Modak | Mumbai | Updated: August 3, 2019 10:34:18 am
malegaon blast case, malegaon case, malegaon blasts 2008, 2008 malegaon blast case, nia, national investigation agency, indian express news If the plea is allowed, it would mean that the trial, in which BJP MP Pragya Singh Thakur is one of the accused, cannot be attended by the general public or journalists. (Source: File)

THE NATIONAL Investigation Agency (NIA) has filed an application before a special court in Mumbai seeking to make the proceedings in the Malegaon 2008 blast case ‘in-camera’. The application also seeks to restrain any publication of the court proceedings.

The blast had caused the deaths of six persons while injuring over 100. The accused in the case included BJP MP Pragya Singh Thakur, lieutenant colonel Prasad Purohit and others. So far, over 120 witnesses have deposed in the trial that began in December last year.

Citing provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and the NIA Act, the agency has claimed that the special court has powers to pass an order to conduct the proceedings in-camera.

Among the provisions cited by the NIA are section 17 of the NIA Act and section 44 of the UAPA, which, to protect witnesses, gives the court the discretion to avoid mentioning their names, issue directions to secure their identity and order all or any proceeding to not be published.

This would mean that besides all the parties to the case, including the prosecution, accused and their lawyers, as well as the lawyer for an intervener (the father of a victim killed in the blast), no person will be allowed to attend the trial.

“As per prosecution, for causing the bomb blast, Malegaon was chosen because it is a Muslim-dominated area. In view of the above mentioned background, for maintaining harmony in the society, it is necessary to conduct in-camera hearing and restraint on the publication of the court proceedings,” the NIA plea, filed through Special Public Prosecutor Avinash Rasal, stated.

It also claimed that the Bombay High Court, while hearing a criminal appeal filed by accused Purohit on being provided non-truncated documents in the case, had sought to know if the NIA had requested for the proceedings to be made in-camera for the “purpose of security and protection of witnesses”.

The NIA further said, “…this case involves facts having direct bearing on the communal harmony, national security and public order and the sensitive nature of the case, unwarranted publicity needs to be avoided as it has potential to damage communal harmony and eventually jeopardise the fairness of the trial (sic).”

It added that since a victim has been permitted to intervene in the matter to assist the prosecution, “there is sufficient check and the purpose of a fair trial is satisfied”.

Among the accused, Sameer Kulkarni has so far objected to the NIA plea stating that there has neither been a single instance arising out of the trial conducted in an open court nor has the NIA shown any ground for such an apprehension.

The court has directed all the accused to submit a reply by Monday. Arguments on the plea are likely to be heard next week.

Earlier, on a plea filed by an accused, the proceedings were allowed to be held “in-camera” till charges were framed in the case in 2017. The court had then said that whether the entire proceeding should be held in-camera would be decided at the trial stage.

In HC, NIA seeks protection for 38 witnesses

The NIA on Friday told the Bombay High Court that it wants protection for 38 witnesses by the way of truncating their identities. On this, a division bench of Justice I A Mahanty and Justice A M Badar directed the agency to file an appropriate application before the special NIA court.

The directions were passed in a petition filed by accused lieutenant colonel Prasad Purohit, challenging the order of the special NIA court rejecting his application seeking access to untruncated copies of documents, including witness statements.

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