Mumbai, April 25 (IANS): The Bombay High Court on Tuesday granted bail to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, one of the prime accused in the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast case, nearly nine years after her arrest.
However, the plea by her co-accused -- former Army officer Lt. Col. Prasad Shrikant Purohit -- was rejected by the High Court. Purohit had challenged a lower court's rejection of his bail plea.
"Taking into account the totality of the facts and circumstances, we allow the appeal and (Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur) is directed to be released on bail," said a division bench of Justice Ranjit More and Justice Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi.
The court also said that prima facie, there was no case made out against the Sadhvi, who has been granted bail 11 months after the National Investigation Agency gave her a 'clean chit' in May 2016.
Sadhvi Pragya's lawyer J.P. Mishra said he urged the court for a month's time to arrange the bail amount and surety, which the court accepted.
"In the meantime, while we arrange the money and surety, we shall get her released by this week from custody ever since her arrest on October 23, 2008," Mishra told IANS.
The investigating agencies had said earlier that the terror strike was carried out allegedly by right-wing group Abhinav Bharat. Eleven accused, including Sadhvi and Purohit, were arrested.
Soon after the grant of bail to Sadhvi Pragya, NGO Jamiat Ulama-e-Maharashtra announced it will challenge the order in the Supreme Court.
"The JUeM, on behalf of the blast victims, intervened and opposed the bail of Sadhvi and Purohit. We have been providing legal assistance to the victims and shall now challenge the bail order in the Supreme Court," the organisation said in a statement.
At least six persons were killed in the blast in Malegaon, a Muslim-dominated powerloom town in Nashik district, on September 29, 2008.
In their detailed 78-page verdict, Justice More and Justice Phansalkar-Joshi said an LML Freedom motorcycle (GJ-05-BR-1920) used in the blast was registered in Sadhvi's name.
But investigations later revealed it was in possession of an absconder-accused Ramchandra Kalsangra alias Ramji, confirmed by several prosecution witnesses.
On the NIA's 'clean chit' to the Sadhvi, the bench said it is clear that the NIA has accepted some part of the Anti-Terrorism Squad investigations, and that the NIA not only exonerated her, but also five other co-accused of all charges, including under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act.
In May 2016, the NIA filed a supplementary chargesheet in the case and dropped charges under the MCOCA against Sadhvi Pragya and five others, after which she filed for bail.
"Thus, it is clear that the NIA has found itself to be not in agreement on certain points with the investigations done by ATS," the division bench pointed out.
After her arrest, the Sadhvi was charged with planning the blast and providing a two-wheeler used to plant the bomb.
On the conspiracy meeting in Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, Justice More and Justice Phansalkar-Joshi said that evidence shows many others, besides the Sadhvi, were present.
"So that... cannot be considered as circumstance against (the Sadhvi) alone, excluding the other participants, especially now in the absence of any objectionable and incriminating material attributed to her."
If the reports of both the ATS and NIA are considered, "it cannot be said that there are reasonable grounds for believing that accusations made against her are prima facie true," the judges held.
Moreover, the court said, the Sadhvi is a woman and in custody for more than eight years. She is suffering from breast cancer, has become weak and cannot even walk without support, the court noted while granting her bail.