Former Maharashtra Chief Minister and senior Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan on Thursday demanded that a sedition case be lodged against Pradeep Kurulkar, a senior scientist of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), who was arrested by the Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad (ATS) for passing confidential information to an alleged Pakistani agent.
Speaking in the Legislative Assembly, Mr. Chavan, an MLA from Karad South in Satara district, demanded to know why only the Official Secrets Act had been applied in the case and why the matter had not yet been transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) as it was one connected with international espionage.
“It has come to light that Mr. Kurulkar, a high-ranking DRDO scientist, is being prosecuted only under the Official Secrets Act. It seems that he regularly chatted with this Pakistani agent called ‘Zara’ and even met with her during a tour abroad where the duo even watched an India-Pakistan cricket match together,” Mr. Chavan said.
“The point is why is he being prosecuted only under the Officials Secrets Act and not under the UAPA or sedition law. This is a case of international espionage. So, why is the case not being assigned to the NIA,” said Mr. Chavan, demanding to know the current status of the investigation from the State government.
The Congress has also claimed that Mr. Kurulkar has been associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), after photos of the arrested scientist in RSS uniform and his alleged ties with the organisation emerged after his arrest in May this year.
“He [Mr. Kurulkar] has also been associated with a social organisation whose name I will not take… If I take the name [meaning RSS], there will be uproar in the Assembly,” Mr. Chavan said.
NCP leader (Sharad Pawar group) Jayant Patil, supporting Mr. Chavan’s claim for a sedition case to be booked against Mr. Kurulkar, said the matter was “a very serious one” indeed.
‘It is court’s concern’
Speaker Rahul Narwekar, however, said the question of what Sections to apply in the case was the court’s concern and fell under its jurisdiction.
“The court will add relevant Sections in the chargesheet if it feels the need to do so,” Mr. Narwekar said, prohibiting further discussion on the matter in the Assembly.
On Wednesday, Mr. Kurulkar, through his lawyer, had moved a bail application before a special Pune court, alleging that the sensitive information shared with the Pakistani intelligence operative was available in public domain and was not secret or confidential in nature.
Mr. Kurulkar, currently lodged in Pune’s Yerwada Central Jail, was arrested by a team of the Maharashtra ATS on May 3 under the Officials Secrets Act.
The bulk of the 1,837-page ATS charge sheet against the scientist is centred on Mr. Kurulkar’s communication with the Pakistani spy calling herself ‘Zara Dasgupta’.
It includes Mr. Kurulkar’s WhatsApp chats and transcripts of his voice calls with the Pakistani agent, where the scientist chatted with her about Indian missile systems among other classified defence projects.
‘Dasgupta’ claimed to be a software engineer based in the U.K. and befriended him by sending obscene messages and videos. During the investigation, her IP address was traced to Pakistan, the ATS said in the charge sheet.
The Pakistani agent tried to obtain classified and sensitive information regarding the Brahmos Launcher, Drone, UCV, Agni Missile Launcher and Military Bridging System, among other things, it said.