Mumbai: The special National Investigations Agency (NIA) court has rejected Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Purohit’s claim that he had attended conspiracy meetings before the 2008 Malegaon blast in Faridabad and Bhopal as part of the “discharge of his duty as a military intelligence officer” or with permission from his superiors. Special Judge S.D. Tekale, in his 130-page order, observed, “There is no record to show that while attending the meetings alleged by the prosecution, accused number 9 (Col. Purohit) was on duty. On the contrary, it appears from the leave record of the accused that most of the time he was on leave or meetings were scheduled on public holidays.”
Purohit, in his discharge application, had relied on documents from the army’s court of inquiry. According to Purohit’s application, he, as a military intelligence officer, had attended the meetings to generate “counter-intelligence”. However, the court has observed that “Recording and transcript of the meeting show that this meeting was conducted under the leadership of the accused number 9 treating accused number 10 (Sudhakar Dwivedi) as chairperson. It appears that accused number 9 was ready with homework on the topics discussed in the meeting. There is no material to show that the superior officers of accused number 9 had any idea about the actual topics discussed in the meeting.”
Purohit claimed that the military has a very different way of operating as compared to other intelligence agencies. The court observed, “It may be true that military intelligence does not work like other government agencies, but it has to be ascertained whether official status of accused number 9 (Purohit) furnished the occasions or opportunity for doing all the alleged acts against him or really he was doing his duty. Certainly someone among his superior officers acquainted with all these facts should only come forward and say that everything done by him, including opinions and thoughts expressed by him in the meetings, were in the discharge of his official duty.” The court pointed at the lack of evidence, especially witnesses or statements from superior officers, to support Purohit’s claim of intelligence gathering.
Purohit, who was serving at Pachmarhi at the time of his arrest in 2008, is alleged to be the founder of Abhinav Bharat Trust, floated on February 2, 2007 to propagate a separate ‘Hindu rashtra‘. Under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act, 1999 (MCOCA) sections, the prosecution had claimed he was involved in raising funds to the tune of Rs 21 lakh against the rules of the armed forces. According to the chargesheet, he took finances from Abhinav Bharat for procuring hand grenades and was responsible for organising entry passes to Deolali Military Camp for a co-accused. The court pointed out that there was no evidence available on the record to show that Purohit had taken consent from his superiors for these activities, including controlling the financial transactions of Abhinav Bharat Trust. The Trust money was allegedly used for arranging the meeting in Bhopal, as well as to meet expenses of travelling to various places by the accused, including Purohit. While the pecuniary aspect of the charge has now been dropped, Purohit, who is presently out on bail, will face trial for allegedly being a part of a criminal conspiracy and murder, and for charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
While the court’s observation against Purohit still leaves a scope for the prosecution to build a strong case against him and others, his alleged close confidante Rakesh Dhawade has been given a clean chit on all counts except the possession of arms. An arms curator, Dhawade had two chargesheets against him in earlier blasts from 2003, at Jalna and Parbhani districts in Maharashtra. It was on this basis that MCOCA could be applied in the Malegaon blast case. However, Dhawade was eventually exonerated in 2012. The special NIA court observed that there was no material evidence to show that the rest of the accused had a nexus with Dhawade or had any involvement in the earlier blast cases.
In the order, the court has also noted that the NIA did not oppose Pragya Singh Thakur’s application to drop the charges against her. The NIA last year had sought to exonerate her from the case. This, nine years after she was arrested by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS), led by the then ATS chief Hemant Karkare, and was named the prime accused in the bomb blast.
Thakur, in her application, claimed that there is “no sufficient material on record to show that she is the conspirator”. The LML Freedom motorcycle used in the blast, which was earlier registered in her name, was used as a crucial piece of evidence and led to her arrest in October 2008. Thakur claimed that she had already handed over the motorcycle to someone else and was not in possession of it at the time of the blast that occurred on September 29, 2008. The special court, however, rejected her application.