Mumbai:- Alarmed by witnesses turning hostile in the Malegaon-2008 blasts case, the Maharashtra government lawyers shall now remain in the Special NIA Court where the trial is being conducted on a daily basis, Home Minister Dilip Walse-Patil said here on Saturday.
He told the media persons that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had taken over the case (from the state ATS), but the state government is perturbed at the manner in which several critical witnesses have become hostile in the Special Court.
The significant development came two days after the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) ally Congress had raised the issue and drawn the attention of the Home Ministry and the ATS.
Congress state Working President M. Arif Naseem Khan had submitted a memorandum to the Additional Director-General of Police and ATS chief Vineet Agrawal urging necessary measures to monitor the case closely.
“We are thankful to Home Minister Walse-Patil for accepting our demand for a team to keep a track on the court proceedings. The presence of the ATS lawyers will help in a free and fair trial,” Khan said in a statement.
An ex-minister, Khan reiterated that the NIA is allegedly ‘weakening’ the Malegaon-2008 case and not pursuing it with ‘honesty and sincerity’.
In his memorandum to the ATS Chief Agrawal, Khan contended that the witnesses turning hostile are invoking the names of Bharatiya Janata Party-RSS leaders to “malign the Maharashtra government and ATS” for gaining political mileage in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections.
The September 29, 2008 (Malegaon 2008) bomb blast was allegedly engineered in this minority-dominated Nashik town by Hindu fundamentalists, killing 6 and injuring over 100 others, during the Ramadan month when Muslims were breaking their fast.
The Maharashtra Police and then the ATS probed the case till 2011 when it was taken over by the NIA, and the trial is going on daily before the Special NIA Court in Mumbai.
Of the 223 witnesses examined, 16 have turned hostile, claiming that the ATS tortured them to give evidence against the accused, said Khan, urging the need for the presence of the ATS in the court to protect the image of the Maharashtra government.
Among the accused in the sensational Malegaon 2008 case are BJP MP Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Swami Amritananda Dev Teerth, Dayanand Pandey, Lt. Col. Prasad S. Purohit, and others.
Khan said that the ATS was being sought to be tarnished as an ‘anti-Hindu’ agency with the witnesses, allegedly influenced by the accused, deliberately naming BJP-RSS people ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls for political gains.
“The NIA is not prosecuting all the accused with honesty and sincerity. Out of 223 witnesses who deposed so far, 16 important ones have turned hostile and over a 100 more are still left to be examined. These witnesses are crucial and need to be protected. The NIA has not challenged any orders passed in favour of the accused which shows their intentions clearly,” Khan said.
Some of the witnesses in Malegaon 2008 case even went beyond their recorded statement mentioning names like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, but the NIA’s Special Public Prosecutor took no objection, and another witness claimed he was tortured and threatened by the ATS to take names of Yogi and 4 RSS leaders.