The decision of a special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in Mumbai to frame charges against eight accused, including Sadhvi Pragya and Lt Col Purohit, in the 2008 Malegaon blast case for conspiracy and terrorism marks an important stage in the case which has seen many twists and turns. It is unfortunate that it has taken so many years for the case to reach trial. But considering the different and sometimes contradictory findings of various investigations and the political interest in the case, the order by special judge S D Tekale to proceed with the trial is important. The NIA had given a clean chit to Sadhvi Pragya in the case but the court rejected its contention and observed that it was difficult to accept the submission that she had no role in it. Similarly, the demand of Lt Col Purohit, a former military intelligence officer who was allegedly associated with Abhinav Bharat, which was thought to be aiming to found a 'Hindu rashtra', and others for discharge has also been dismissed. However, three persons have been discharged from the case and two others will be tried in regular courts.
The accused got a major relief when the judge decided to drop charges under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), under which confessional statements made by the accused may be considered as evidence. The trial will now be under the IPC and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) had slapped MCOCA on the accused, claiming that the Sadhvi, Purohit and others were directly involved in the conspiracy. The NIA accused the ATS of using wrong means to reach its conclusions and said there was no or inadequate evidence to proceed against many of the accused. The judge has not accepted the findings of either of the investigative agencies in toto and has done well to decide to proceed with the trial, accepting some contentions of both sides.
It is important that there should be a closure to the Malegaon case, because the idea of Hindu or saffron terror gained currency with the Malegaon blast. The UPA government was charged with attempts to frame the accused while the NDA government faces the charge that it is trying to sabotage the case. There have been charges that prosecutors were under pressure to dilute the case. It is also a case in which a number of Muslims who were first arrested for suspected involvement were released after almost 10 years in jail as there was no evidence against them. The trial and outcome of the case is important for the country as the issues involved in it have greater relevance now.