Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit has been released on bail after nine years in custody for his alleged involvement in the Malegaon blasts of September 2008, which killed seven and injured over a hundred.
Initial investigations indicated the involvement of a hardline pro-Hindu group, Abhinav Bharat. Subsequent investigations led to the arrests of Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, Major Ramesh Upadhyay (retired) and Lt Col Purohit, a serving officer of the military intelligence branch of the Army.
There has been a cloud over the investigations from the time they were launched, claiming they were politically motivated. Initial investigations were conducted by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) led by Hemant Karkare, who was subsequently killed in the Mumbai terror attack on November 26, 2008. The case was handed over to the NIA in 2011.
Many have stated that the entire investigation was aimed at creating an impression of the presence of a Hindu terror organisation to appease sections of the public. Pakistan has repeatedly claimed that it was this organisation which was responsible for targeting the Samjhauta Express. There have also been claims that statements of witnesses were coerced and the recovery of RDX used in the blasts was a frame-up. The officer maintained that he was tasked to infiltrate Abhinav Bharat by military intelligence and he was not involved in the blasts.
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The Army conducted its own court of inquiry (CoI), which had also exonerated the officer. However, the same had no locus standi in the civil court. Since the charges were related to terrorism, he could not be held under Army custody, nor could the Army claim his custody as per Army law. The officer was finally granted bail by the Supreme Court on August 21.
Throughout the nine years of his incarceration, the Army neither suspended him nor terminated his services as they were convinced the officer was innocent, despite pressure from the earlier UPA government, which while in power was aggressively pursuing the case.
While officially the Army never commented on the case, the action of not suspending him proved that they disagreed with investigative agencies and were convinced the officer was innocent.
While the Army could not be involved with the case directly, it provided all facilities to the family. This feeling of support and camaraderie was evident when Purohit on release from prison was collected in Army vehicle and driven to his last unit from where he was arrested. And he would begin serving again.
His first comment was his desire to rejoin service and he was thankful for what the Army had done for him and his family.
Since the officer was neither suspended nor terminated from service, he would be required to join duty within 24 hours of his release on bail. Also, since the officer is on conditional bail, he cannot be posted to any active formation. Hence, he would be located close to where the investigations are in progress, in a fresh posting, once the bail papers have been studied.
Thus, those who have been accusing the Army for not doing enough should realise that despite political pressure, the Army refused to suspend or terminate the services of the officer throughout the period of his arrest.
It gave him his due honour by receiving him from the jail where he was lodged and transporting him to the unit in which he is to serve. The Army had its restrictions as the case was sub-judice and related to terror.