New Delhi: Observing that a balance must be maintained between the personal liberty of an accused and the right of an agency to investigate the case, the Supreme Court on Monday granted bail to Lt. Col. Prasad Srikant Purohit, accused in the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast case that killed seven people and injured over 100.
Taking into consideration the fact that Lt. Col. Purohit has been in jail for eight years and eight months, and that there were serious contradictions in the charge sheets filed by ATS Mumbai and the NIA, a bench of Justices R.K. Agrawal and A.M. Sapre set aside the judgment of the Bombay high court.
In April this year, the high court, while granting bail to co-accused Sadhvi Pragya, had rejected Lt. Col. Purohit’s plea saying that the charges against him were of a “grave nature”.
Three days later, Lt. Col. Purohit moved the Supreme Court, pleading that Sadhvi Pragya’s bail and clean chit by NIA had snapped the link between him and her and, hence, he too deserved bail.
The Supreme Court said that grant or denial of bail is regulated, to a large extent, by the facts and circumstances of each case, but at the same time right to bail is not to be denied merely because of the sentiments of a community against an accused.
The bench said that Lt. Col. Purohit, who was at the time of the blasts an intelligence officer of the Indian Army, has refuted the charge of conspiracy on the ground of intelligence inputs he provided to his superior officers and the NIA had last year accused ATS of planting RDX at Lt. Col. Purohit’s residence.
“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 on bail,” the bench said.
After two bombs fitted on a motorcycle exploded in Malegaon on September 29, 2008, investigations exposed the role of a hardline Hindutva group, Abhinav Bharat. Among those linked to the group and arrested were Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and Lt. Col. Purohit.
The Army officer is accused of floating Abhinav Bharat, collecting funds to procure arms and explosives and organising meetings where the Malegaon attack was planned. He, however, has maintained that he was assigned by military intelligence to infiltrate various terror organisations and that his superiors were in the loop about his actions and associations with Abhinav Bharat.
Investigations into the blast were initially conducted by Maharashtra ATS, led by its chief Hemant Karkare. After Karkare was killed in the terror attacks in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, the probe was handed over to the NIA in 2011.
While the NIA maintains that there was evidence against Lt. Col. Purohit in the form of audio and video recordings, call data records and statements of witnesses which prove his involvement in the case, it recommended prosecuting him for conspiracy under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. It dropped charges under the stringent anti-terror law, the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act or MCOCA, against Lt. Col. Purohit and nine others.
While rejecting his bail petition, the Bombay high court had referred to the report filed by the NIA, and said, “Purohit was the one who prepared a separate ‘Constitution’ for ‘Hindu Rashtra’ with a separate saffron colour flag. He also discussed about taking revenge for the (alleged) atrocities committed by the Muslims on Hindus.” The court also refused to accept his contention that he had attended the meetings as part of a “covert military intelligence operation”.
The Congress reacted sharply to news of bail to Lt. Col Purohit. Accusing the BJP government of “protecting” all the accused “connected to the RSS”, it also raised questions over National Investigation Agency (NIA) chief Sharad Kumar getting two extensions.
“Col Purohit gets bail. It was expected as the present BJP govt is protecting all the accused connected with RSS in all bomb blast cases (sic),” Congress leader Digivijaya Singh tweeted.
“NIA chief has been given two extensions to ensure their acquittal. He may now be further rewarded for a suitable post retirement position (sic),” he said, in another tweet.