REJECTING THE NIA’s plea for an in-camera trial in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, a Special Court on Tuesday observed that the media, “being the main pillar of democracy”, plays a role in providing correct information to the public.
Allowing the intervention application filed by 11 journalists, including from The Indian Express, Special Judge V S Padalkar said that conducting the trial in a “transparent manner” is among the reasons for rejecting the NIA’s plea.
In its application filed in August, the NIA had asked for the media to be restrained from reporting on the trial, which is currently underway against seven accused, including BJP MP Pragya Singh Thakur, Lt Col Prasad Purohit and Dayanand Chaturvedi, who supported the plea.
The NIA cited several reasons, including security of protected witnesses, sensitive nature of the case, and “unwarranted publicity” which has the “potential to cause damage to communal harmony”.
“Though special public prosecutor (Avinash Rasal), through NIA and accused number 1 and 9 (Thakur and Purohit), vehemently argued the point of security, considering the nature, gravity of offence and also security of the ‘state’ from anti-national elements, sensitivity and other factors, I come to the conclusion that, till this date, no application has been received by this court from anybody on the point of threat, nor, during these years, there was disharmony and communal rift as stated by them, anywhere else — in Malegaon, or other part of the state,” the court said, adding that it was, therefore, not a fit case for conducting an in-camera trial.
Relying on the provisions of the Maharashtra Witness Protection and Security Act, 2017, the court said that nobody, including witnesses, had approached it with a grievance or applied for protection. It said the NIA had not explained the delay in filing the application for an in-camera trial — 127 witnesses, including five protected witnesses, have already deposed.
It said the NIA had not filed any record of secret information from sources with regard to internal security, or any letters received from witnesses of threat or fear.
The court said journalists covering the case would have to submit identity cards issued by their media houses, not report names of witnesses, and report the matter as per “factual position of the hearing”. It said there should not be any debate or discussion on the proceedings until the end of trial.
The 11 journalists, from print and electronic media, who filed the intervention application are: Sharmeen Hakim Indorewala, Sunilkumar Singh, Vidya Kumar, Sadaf Modak, Neeta Kolhatkar, Sunil Baghel, Santia Gora, Rebecca Samervel, Ranjeet Singh, David Delima and Narsi Benwal, represented by lawyers Rizwan Merchant and Gayatri Gokhale.
Others accused in the case, including Sameer Kulkarni and retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay, opposed the NIA’s plea, and contended that the media should be able to report the proceedings for a fair trial.
The Malegaon blast, on September 29, 2008, killed six persons and injured over 100.