The Supreme Court yesterday granted bail to suspended Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, the main accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast, after he had spent nine years in prison.
Granting bail, a bench of Justices R K Agrawal and Abhay Manohar Sapre said: “In our considered opinion, there are material contradictions in the charge-sheets filed by the ATS Mumbai and the NIA which are required to be tested at the time of trial and this court cannot pick or choose one version over the other.”
The Malegaon bomb blast case was initially investigated by the Anti-Terrorism Squad, Mumbai, before it was handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
Purohit will be attached to an army unit but remain under suspension from service for now, sources said.
He was suspended on January 20, 2009, after his arrest. He was posted at the Deolali Cantonment of the army in Maharashtra as a liaison unit officer when he was arrested.
The sources said he continues to be under suspension, but since he has now been ordered to be released on bail, he has to be attached to an army unit. The order for his posting will come after his bail orders reach the Army Headquarters.
He is likely to report back to the unit from where he was arrested. His suspension would be reviewed later, the sources said.
According to rules, under suspension, he will be treated as “under open arrest”, wherein usually a soldier is supposed to wear only his uniform. Purohit, under suspension, can wear civilian clothes as well.
His stay in his army unit will come along with restrictions like limited area of movement, not leave the station without permission and reporting daily.
He would also not be allowed to attend any public event or gathering.
Purohit’s return to active duty will depend on the final verdict in the case, the sources said.
During suspension, a soldier gets 25% of his salary. However, Purohit had approached the Armed Force Tribunal, which had ordered that he should be given 75% of his salary.
Purohit was accused of providing RDX for the bomb that killed seven people in Maharashtra’s Muslim-majority town of Malegaon on September 29, 2008.
He was accused of being part of the Hindu rightwing group Abhinav Bharat. Purohit, however, said he was there to spy on the group members and had kept his seniors in the loop on all developments.
According to the sources, the report of a Court of Inquiry constituted by the army in the case supported his claim.
The Defence Ministry, after orders from the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar, had provided documents related to him for investigation.
In its judgment, the court referred to “variations” in the charge-sheets filed by the ATS and the NIA.
The court noted that Purohit was an intelligence officer with the army and had denied the claim of conspiracy on the ground that he was apprising his superior officers of the intelligence inputs and the alleged role of ATS officials in the planting of RDX at the residence of another accused.
Purohit had told the court that charges had not been framed against him while those under the MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act) had been dropped.
He told the court that he had been in jail for nine years and was entitled to bail.
Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit