Malegaon bomb blast accused Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit on Wednesday told the Bombay High Court that he was involved with the hardline Hindu group alleged to be behind the 2008 attacks as he was collecting intelligence inputs for the Indian Army.
The claim that Purohit was only “discharging his duties” as a military intelligence officer was made as the court heard a plea filed by him that argues that the National Investigation Agency does not have a valid sanction to prosecute him in the case.
His lawyer, Neela Gokhale, informed the court that he collected the intelligence inputs by attending conspiracy meetings held for the 2008 blast. Purohit has maintained that his superiors were constantly in the loop about his actions and associations with Abhinav Bharat.
Purohit is one of the key accused along with Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, now the BJP MP from Bhopal, in the bombing case, in which seven people were killed. After nine years in prison, he got conditional bail from the Supreme Court in 2017.
The NIA, in its chargesheet in 2016, had recorded the statements of seven Military Intelligence officers who said they were not aware of Purohit’s alleged undercover operation to infiltrate Abhinav Bharat, the group that Purohit registered in 2006, giving his profession as farmer.
The NIA had recommended prosecuting Purohit for conspiracy and under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, though it had dropped charges under the stringent anti-terror law, the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act or MCOCA, against him and nine others.
His lawyer on Wednesday said that the case against him was not maintainable as there was no requisite sanction under Section 197 of the CrPC. Section 197(2) of the CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) bars a court from taking cognisance of any offence that had been committed by any member of the Indian Armed Forces while acting in his or her duties without getting previous sanction from the central government.
His lawyer also informed the court that Purohit was a decorated army officer and used to often give instructions for the anti-terrorism squad (ATS).
The court has adjourned the hearing till February 2, 2021, and said the next hearing will be held in a physical court and not via video conferencing.