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Court puts its foot down. 'Saffron terrorist' Sadhvi Pragya to stay in jail

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 29 June 2016, 3:09 IST

A special NIA court in Mumbai Tuesday denied bail to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur. She is the prime accused in the 2008 Malegaon bombing, which had killed eight people and left 101 injured.

Although the NIA has identified Pragya as the main accused in the case, it has dropped charges under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act against her and five of the other 13 accused.

In its chargesheet filed on 13 May - the third in the case, following the two filed by the Maharashtra ATS - the NIA claimed it did not have "sufficient evidence" to charge the accused under the MCOCA. On 30 May, Pragya's lawyer applied for bail on the grounds that the charges under MOCOA had been dropped against her. The court directed the NIA to respond to the plea, and scheduled the hearing for 28 June.

Also read - Why exoneration of Sadhvi Pragya should worry everyone who stands for justice

In the meantime, Nishar Ahmed, a businessman from Malegaon who lost his son in the blast, filed an intervention application on 17 June, objecting to the bail application filed by Pragya. At the hearing on Tuesday, Nishar's lawyer Wahab Khan forcefully argued against granting bail. The NIA, on the other hand, said it had no objection.

After considering "all facts and arguments", however, the court rejected the bail application.

Speaking to the media later, Wahab Khan claimed the court "came down heavily on the NIA while rejecting the bail application". "This is a major defeat for the NIA. Had the court granted bail to Pragya, all other accused would have followed suit and the matter would have dragged on for another decade or more. It's already eight years and the case is still pending. Granting bail to the accused would have delayed it further. The court blasted NIA officials for loopholes in their investigation," he said.

Had Pragya got bail, other accused too would have sought it, dragging the case on for another decade

A lawyer who was in court to witness the proceedings, however, denied that judge SD Tokle passed strictures against the NIA. "The court simply told the NIA that the grounds for bail were not sufficient. Although the agency did not oppose the bail, the court opined that it would affect the investigations, hence cancelled the bail," the lawyer, who didn't want to be named, said.

Wahab Khan insisted otherwise. "The rejection of the application itself is as good as strictures from the court. It is also significant in terms of the fate of the accused, since no other accused will try to seek bail now," he said.

The case relates to the bombing of Bhiku Chowk in Malegaon on 29 September 2008. The bomb was planted on a motorcycle.

The probe was initially conducted by the Maharashtra ATS, led by the late Hemant Karkare. It revealed that the motorcycle belonged to Pragya. This breakthrough helped the ATS unravel a vast terrorist conspiracy involving a group of Hindutva extremists calling themselves Abhinav Bharat. The ATS eventually arrested a serving army officer, Lt Col Prasad Purohit, a retired army major, Ramesh Upadhyay, and a self-proclaimed Hindu seer Sudhakar Dwivedi, apart from Pragya.

The ATS filed a chargesheet on 20 January 2009, and another on 21 April 2011, naming 14 people as the accused. Of them, Sadhvi Pragya, Ramesh Upadhyay, Prasad Purohit, Sameer Kulkarni, Rakesh Dhawade, Sudhakar Dwivedi, Sudhakar Chaturvedi and Pravin Takalki are in jail. Shivnarayan Kalsangra, Shyam Sahu, Raja Rahirkar and Jagdish Mhatre are out on bail, while Ramchandra Kalsangra and Sandeep Bange are absconding.

The investigation was later handed over to the NIA in 2011.

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First published: 29 June 2016, 3:09 IST