BJP MP Pragya Singh Thakur and Lt Col Prasad Purohit, accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast, filed their replies on Monday supporting the National Investigation Agency (NIA)’s application seeking restrain on publication of trial proceedings. However, another accused, Major Ramesh Upadhyay (retd), has opposed the NIA’s application stating that it is “belated, insincere”.
The NIA had last week sought for the proceedings in the trial to be held “in-camera”. A group of 11 journalists, including from The Indian Express, have also filed an intervention application opposing the NIA’s plea to restrain the media from reporting the trial.
In her application filed through lawyers J P Mishra and Prashant Maggu, Thakur has claimed that the accused have been subjected to “media trial” and have been “over-exposed” to media debates, “influencing” the opinion of the public at large including witnesses. She has further claimed there is apprehension of threat to communal harmony and “jeopardising the fairness of the trial”.
Purohit has also similarly cited security of witnesses claiming that many of them have “expressed apprehension to their lives at the hands of ATS officers” and “anti-national elements” to suppress the truth. He has further claimed that certain documents produced by the Ministry of Defence if disclosed would have a “serious effect” on national security.
Upadhyay, however, in his reply filed through advocate Sudeep Pasbola, has claimed that the case does not warrant an in-camera trial alleging that “unless the NIA has something to hide, the application has no merits”. He has further claimed that the NIA has not furnished names of witnesses whose identity they need to protect or has not stated how the ends of justice would be met by not allowing journalists access to the hearing.
The NIA has claimed in its plea that the Bombay High Court while hearing an appeal in a connected matter had asked whether any steps were taken by the agency to make the proceedings in-camera. Upadhyay has said the “enquiry” by the HC on the “factual position” is not an order binding on the trial court. The trial in the case which began in December last year has seen the deposition of over 120 witnesses so far.
An intervention application filed by the father of a man killed in the blast has also stated that victims are entitled to know the progress in the case and open access to the trial is as important as any aspect of a fair trial.
The application filed by journalists through advocates Rizwan Merchant and Gayatri Gokhale states that the NIA had relied on section 17 of the NIA Act on protection of witnesses in its plea but is “devoid of any material” to enable the trial court to conclude that the life of any witness is in danger to pass such a restrain. On Monday, special Judge V S Padalkar said that an opportunity should be given to the intervention plea filed by journalists “in interest of justice and fair trial”. The arguments on the plea are likely to begin on Wednesday.