MUMBAI: In a complete U-turn, the NIA today dropped all charges against Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and five others in the 2008 Malegaon blast case while charges under the stringent 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".
Today'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. 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 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 Maharashtra Control of Crimes Act (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. Lt Col Purohit and nine others will now be tried for charges including murder and conspiracy under the provisions of anti-terror law UAPA, IPC, Arms Act and Explosives Substance Act.
Director General of NIA Sharad Kumar told reporters today 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 today submitted by public prosecutor Geeta Godambe before Special Judge S D Tekale here. 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.
The Congress attacked the NIA decision to drop charges against Sadhvi Praygya and five others besides diluting the case against Lt Col and nine other accused. Senior leader Digvijay Singh said "as I had predicted BJP and RSS have started the process of saving the Sangh Activists involved in Terror Cases."
"Was the DG of NIA given extension for this?" he asked. Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju dismissed the allegation saying government does not interfere in the investigation by the agencies. "We allow agencies to work independently," he said.
The NIA mentioned about the Court of Inquiry report of Army against Purohit which claims that ATS officials had barged into his house and apparently "planted" RDX. However, the NIA has not come to its own conclusion about the claims made by the army in its inquiry report.
The incident took place opposite 'Shakeel Goods Transport Company' between Anjuman Chowk and Bhiku Chowk in Malegaon. The blast took place by an improvised explosive device fitted in a LML Freedom motorcycle and the probe was handed over to the Maharashtra ATS which first invoked UAPA on October 18, 2008 and stringent MCOCA, a month later in the same year.
The NIA said the investigations in the case were delayed till April 2015 as the accused persons had filed various petitions in higher courts, including the ones regarding applicability of MCOC Act. However, after the Supreme Court adjudicated on them, the NIA filed charge sheet against 10 people including Ramesh Shivaji Upadhyay, Sameer Sharad Kulkarni, Ajay Rahirkar, Rakesh Dhawde, Jagdish Chintaman Mahatre, Purohit, Sudhakar Dhar Dwevedi, Sudhakar Chaturvedi, Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Dange.
All of them have been booked under criminal conspiracy, murder and various provisions of Arms Act, UAPA and Explosives Substance Act.