New Delhi: In a complete U-turn, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Friday dropped all charges against Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and five others in the 2008 Malegaon blast case while charges under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) law have been given up against all the other 10 accused including Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit.
During investigation, "sufficient evidences have not been found against" Pragya Singh Thakur and five others, the NIA said, adding it has submitted in the chargesheet "that the prosecution against them is not maintainable".
Friday's development in the case, in which seven people were killed in twin blasts when people were coming out of prayers during Ramzan in September 29, 2008.
Congress leader Digvijay Singh slammed the BJP government for the exoneration of Sadhvi Pragya.
"Want to tell Centre that we know you want to save
BJP leader Meenakshi Lekhi expressed satisfaction at the turn of events. "I had been saying from long that there was no case against Pragya Thaku," said Meenakshi Lekhi.
There have been a lot of twists and turns in the probe into the Malegaon blast which was described as a handiwork of people associated with Hindu right wing groups.
The case was investigated initially by Joint Commissioner of Mumbai's ATS Hemant Karkare who was killed during the 26/11 Mumbai attack. Before the NIA took over the case in 2011, ATS had booked 16 people but filed charge sheets on January 20, 2009 and April 21, 2011 against 14 accused in a Mumbai court.
Purohit and Pragya had moved several applications before the Bombay High Court and Supreme Court challenging the charge sheet and applicability of stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) in the case.
Shiv Narayan Kalsangra, Shyam Bhavarlal Sahu, Praveen Takkalki, Lokesh Sharma and Dhan Singh Choudhury are the other five accused against whom charges have been dropped besides Sadhvi.
The agency also said during investigation that it has been established that no offence is attracted in this case under the MCOCA, in which any statement given before a SP level officer is admissible as an evidence.
"In furtherance of same, the confessional statements recorded under provisions of MCOC Act by ATS Mumbai have not been relied up on by the NIA in submitting the present Final report," the agency said in its chargesheet.
“All witness statements have been recorded under MCOCA before a DCP (deputy commissioner of police). Once MCOCA charges are dropped, these statements have no evidentiary value. There are just as many statements saying Sadhvi Pragya was not part of the meetings,” an official was quoted as saying.
On the other hand, the NIA evidence against Purohit is significant. He is said to have been an integral part of Abhinav Bharat, which plotted the blasts, and used the organisation’s money to buy plots in Nashik. In phone intercepts, Purohit is heard telling another accused to flee and destroy the evidence since the police had got wind of the conspiracy.
The decision to drop MCOCA charges against the accused was taken since the application itself was flawed and only one accused was eligible to be book under the act. Everyone else was charged for association.
The NIA had earlier sought the opinion of the Law Ministry whether MCOCA charges could be dropped. The ministry had reportedly told the NIA to decide for itself. The NIA took over the case from the Maharashtra ATS and re-examined all the accused, witnesses and evidence presented in the ATS chargesheet. It also recorded fresh statements, many of which exonerated the accused.
Lt Col Purohit and nine others will now be tried for charges including murder and conspiracy under the provisions of anti-terror law Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), Indian Penal Code (IPC), Arms Act and Explosives Substance Act.
Director General of NIA Sharad Kumar told reporters on Friday there was no dilution in the case.
Asked about the stand taken by the agency in the past when it had opposed the bail plea of Sadhvi and others even in the Supreme Court, he said "till our investigation was not complete, we had to go by the probe done by the ATS. Now that we have completed the investigations, we have submitted our final report (chargesheet)".
The chargesheet was on Friday submitted by public prosecutor Geeta Godambe before Special Judge SD Tekale. Special Public Prosecutor in the case Avinash Rasal said he was not informed about the filing of the chargesheet (by the NIA). "I am hurt and I may resign from the case", Rasal said....