The Supreme Court on Monday granted bail to 2008 Malegaon blast accused Lt Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit. Colonel Purohit is behind bars for the last nine years. Purohit was released from Tajola prison in Navi Mumbai on Wednesday, two days after being granted bail by the Supreme Court in the Malegaon blast case.
The Apex Court said, ‘we set aside order of Bombay High Court’ while granting conditional bail to Malegaon blast accused Lt Colonel Purohit. A bench of Justices R K Agrawal and Abhay Manohar Sapre passed the order on the plea.
Justice R K Agrawal and Abhay Manohar Sapre said that Purohit had already spent nine years in jail in a case where the maximum prescribed punishment was seven years. The bench said it had to balance individual liberty with investigational considerations and would tilt in favour of liberty in the case.
“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 personal liberty of the accused and investigational rights…”
The Supreme Court granted bail to Lt Col Purohit pointing out that there were “material contradictions” in the chargesheets filed by Maharashtra’s Anti-Terror Squad and the NIA, which later took over the case and that these need to be tested at the time of trial.
The court observed that the Purohit has already spent a long time in jail and that the trial is likely to stretch too.The court asked Purohit to furnish a personal security of Rs 1 lakh, two additional sureties of the same amount, and surrender his passport before being released on bail.
The court also told him that he should make himself available for the investigation, as and when required by the NIA, and should “not, directly or indirectly, make any inducement, threat or promise to any person acquainted with the facts of the case so as to dissuade that person from disclosing such facts to the court or to the investigating agency or to any police officer”.
There are no material witnesses against Purohit . Three such witnesses, who earlier claimed to the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) that Purohit was integral to the conspiracy, went back on their statements when confronted by the NIA. They in fact alleged pressure and torture on part of the ATS.
Also the charge by ATS that Purohit supplied RDX for the blasts stood demolished in the NIA report that showed an ATS officer planted RDX in house of one of the accused. In fact, the NIA even exonerated two accused who were charged of transporting RDX to Maharashtra on Purohit’s behalf.
The most important angle is the report of the Court of Inquiry by the Ministry of Defence before the trial court now, that confirmed that Purohit had briefed his superiors in the Army about details of the three ‘Abhinav Bharat’ meetings that he had attended in January 2008. Purohit has questioned why he would do so if he was indulging in a terror conspiracy, and to buttress his claim that this was part of his counter-intelligence job.
On September 29, 2008, a bomb concealed in an LML Freedom motorcycle went off opposite the premises of Shakil Goods Transport Company, killing at least seven people and injuring 79 others. Following initial investigation, the Maharashtra ATS arrested Pragya, Purohit and retired Maj. Ramesh Upadhyay.
Purohit, perhaps the first serving officer to have been arrested in a case of this kind, claimed at the time that he had infiltrated the Pune-based rightwing group Abhinav Bharat as an intelligence operative, and had kept his seniors in the loop.
Abhinav Bharat was formed in 2006 by Purohit and former major of the Indian army Ramesh Upadhyay in western Pune city on the pretext that it would counter attacks by armed Muslim groups. It mainly operates in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh states.
The group was investigated for its alleged roles in Malegaon blasts, Mecca Masjid blasts, Ajmer Sharif blast and 2007 Samjhauta Express bombings.
Purohit belonged to a middle class family from Maharashtra. His father worked as a bank officer. He completed his education from Abhinav Viyalaya and Garwara College from his birth town in Pune. Purohit was commissioned into Maratha Light Infantry in 1994 after he cleared out of the Officer’s Training Academy at Chennai. Between 2002-2005, he served in the counter-terrorism operations unit in Jammu and Kashmir. Later he was shifted to Military Intelligence due to health reasons.
Malegaon saw two blasts – one in 2006 and the other in 2008. Lt Col Purohit was accused in the second bombing case. Investigations into both the cases have been marred in allegations of accused being framed and explosives planted. In 2016, a Mumbai court exonerated all nine men arrested by the Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad for the 2006 blasts, which killed more than 30 people.
Purohit said he wants to rejoin the Army as soon as possible. “I want to wear my uniform. It is outermost layer of my skin. I am wedded to it. I am very happy to get back into the service of the best organisation in the country if not the world, the Indian Army,” he told reporters outside a Mumbai court on Tuesday. He will report at the Southern Command in Pune in uniform.
Purohit has to report to his unit within 24 hours of his release. He was suspended after his arrest in 2008, but, his lawyer said, the suspension was revoked after a court of inquiry.
The Army will review Col Purohit’s suspension from service after examining the court order, army sources said on Monday.They said Purohit will be placed under same restrictions as an officer in “open arrest” and his movement will be confined to his residential accommodation and camp of his unit.
Sources said the Army headquarters will study the Supreme Court’s order granting him bail and accordingly take a call will be taken on whether to revoke his suspension or not.