The Supreme Court today granted bail to Lt Col Shrikant Prasad Purohit, who has been languishing in jail for almost nine years for his alleged role in 2008 Malegaon blast case, observing there were contradictions in the charge sheets filed by different investigating agencies.
The top court also said it cannot deny the relief to him merely because “sentiments of community was against him”. Six people were killed in a bomb blast on September 29, 2008, at Malegaon, a communally-sensitive textile town in Nasik district of north Maharashtra.
The apex court said there were “material contradictions” in the charge sheets filed by the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), Mumbai and the National Investigating Agency (NIA), which are required to be tested at the time of trial, and it cannot pick or choose one version over the other.
A bench of Justices R K Agrawal and Abhay Mohan Sapre, while taking note of variations in the charge sheets filed by Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) Mumbai and NIA, said that fresh ground for consideration of Purohit’s bail plea was made out, as at the relevant time, he was an Intelligence officer of the Indian Army.
It said that Purohit has refuted the claim of conspiracy on the ground that he had informed to his senior officers about the intelligence inputs of meetings attended by him at the Abhinav Bharat, a right-wing Hindu extremist outfit, and alleged role of ATS officials in the planting of RDX explosive substance at the residence of a co-accused.
Keeping in view that NIA submitted a supplementary charge sheet which is “at variance” with the one filed by the ATS, the trial was likely to take a long time and the appellant has been in prison for about eight years and eight months, “we are of the considered view that the appellant has made out a prima facie case for release on bail and we deem it appropriate to enlarge the appellant herein on bail,” the bench said.
Holding that the “grant or denial is regulated, to a large extent, by the facts and circumstances of each particular case,” it said but the “right to bail is not to be denied merely because of the sentiments of the community being against the accused.”
“Liberty of a citizen is undoubtedly important but this is to balance with the security of the community. A balance is required to be maintained between the personal liberty of the accused and the investigational rights of the agency. It must result in minimum interference with the personal liberty of the accused and the right of the agency to investigate the case,” the bench said.
The court set aside the April 25 verdict of the Bombay High Court denying bail to Purohit, but imposed certain restrictions while granting him relief after he spent eight years and eight months in jail.
Among the conditions imposed by apex court while granting bail to Purohit was that he would not leave India without prior permission of court and not directly or indirectly make any inducement to any witnesses.
The court, however, made it clear that the grant of bail to Purohit, shall be no ground for similar relief to other accused in the case and each plea for relief will be considered on its own merits.
“We also make it clear that the Special Court shall decide the bail applications if filed by the other accused persons, uninfluenced by any observation made by this Court. Further, any observations made by us in this order shall not come in the way of deciding the trial on merits”, it said.
The apex court took into consideration that NIA during its probe had found that there were contradictions with regard to the evidence led in the charge sheet by the ATS and it was concluded that no offence under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) was attracted.
The confessional statements recorded under the MCOCA provisions by the ATS were not being relied upon by the NIA in the charge sheet against the accused persons, it said.
The bench said that NIA found no evidence against Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur to prosecute her, as all the witnesses had retracted from their statements.
Purohit had moved the apex court challenging the Bombay High Court’s order dismissing his bail plea.
A special MCOCA court had earlier ruled that the ATS had wrongly applied this law against Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, Purohit and nine others.
The 4,000-page charge sheet had alleged that Malegaon was selected as the blast target because of a sizeable Muslim population there. It had named Thakur, Purohit and co-accused, Swami Dayanand Pandey as the key conspirators. However, Thakur was last year given clean chit by the NIA.