The Bombay High Court on Tuesday granted bail to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, a key accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, holding that prima facie, no case was made out against her. Sadhvi Pragya has been in jail for over eight years.
The High court, however, rejected the bail plea of co-accused Prasad Purohit, a former lieutenant colonel, saying the charges against him were of “serious and grave” nature.
Six persons were killed and nearly 100 others injured when a bomb strapped to a motorcycle exploded in Malegaon town of Nashik district, about 270 km from here, on September 29, 2008.
Sadhvi Pragya (44) was arrested in October that year and Purohit (44) the next month. Both were charged with plotting the blasts as part of what the prosecution said was a plan by Hindu right wing group Abhinav Bharat. The two have been in jail since along with nine other accused in the case.
While Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur was granted bail on a cash security of ₹5 lakh. A Division Bench of Justice Ranjit More and Justice Shalini Phansalkar Joshi directed her to deposit her passport with the special court, and report to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) as and when required.
She was also asked to not tamper with the evidence or prosecution witnesses and remain present at the time of hearing at the special court.
The bench was hearing an appeal from Sadhvi Pragya challenging an order passed on June 28, 2016, by the special NIA court, rejecting her bail plea. Special Judge S.D. Tekale had then observed, “there are reasonable grounds to believe accusations against Sadhvi are prima facie true.”
After hearing the arguments, the court had reserved the order on February 20.
Tuesday’s court order said, “If reports of Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) and NIA are considered conjointly, it cannot be said that there are reasonable grounds for believing that accusation made against her are prima facie true. The benefit of bail cannot be withheld, even if the offences alleged against her by ATS are grave and serious one.”
The court also mentioned that Sadhvi is a woman and has been in jail for more than eight years and is suffering from breast cancer. The medical reports show that she has become infirm and cannot walk without support. The court said she is currently in an Ayurvedic hospital that cannot give her proper treatment.
The court relied upon statements of witnesses to show that Sadhvi was not in possession of the said motorcycle used for the blasts much before the incident. “Even assuming that the said motorcycle was found at the place of the incident, the fact that she was the registered owner of it, by itself cannot be sufficient in the light of material placed on record,” the court stated.
The order pointed to out statements of witnesses who were alleged to be present at the Bhopal meeting in which alleged conspiracy to strike terror at Malegaon was hatched.
The court recorded, “Their statements recorded by ATS do not disclose any objectionable and incriminating material against her. Though there is some material on record that she was present at the Bhopal meeting, it, however, shows that apart from her, several other persons were also present at the said meeting. In our view, the same cannot be considered as circumstance against her alone, excluding the other participants, especially, now in the absence of any objectionable and incriminating material attributed to her.”
While dismissing former Lt. Col. Purohit’s appeal, the HC said, “The offences charged against him are serious and grave, inviting even punishment of death or life imprisonment.”
The court said whatever observations made about the merits of the case, was made for the purpose of deciding the appeal and the trial court is not influenced by them. He had moved HC challenging the rejection of his second bail on September 26, 2016 by the NIA court that had observed there is “prima facie evidence and a case against Lt Col.”
The court took note of telephonic conversations between Purohit and other witnesses, saying, “One cannot ignore intercepted telephonic conversations, which do not, prima facie, support his contention that he was acting under the 'Covert Military Operation' and was also working in discharge of his duties. If it was so, he would have immediately contacted his superior officers in the Army or, at least, appraised the Police, who were investigating the case, about his role. At least, he would not have any apprehension of being arrested in the case.”