In a major setback to the army’s efforts to dismiss Malegaon terror attack accused Lt Col Shrikant Prasad Purohit, the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) Wednesday asked for the Court of Inquiry (COI) to be reconvened as it suffered “from the vice of irregularity”.
Issuing orders on a plea by Purohit, an AFT bench headed by Justice S.S. Kulshreshtha said the army should hold the COI once again from the stage when it recorded statements of witnesses in the absence of the accused officer.
“The court of inquiry suffers from the vice of irregularity. It would be just and proper to direct the army to further convene the COI from the stage when the statements of the witnesses were recorded on September 1, 2010, in absence of Purohit,” the AFT said in its orders.
Justice Kulshreshtha observed that certain witnesses were examined by the army in the absence of Purohit, who had “no opportunity to cross examine them” and that this violated the army’s Rule 180.
Army Rule 180 stipulates that the military personnel, whose reputations are being questioned by the COI, has to be present when witness statements are being recorded and he or she should be given an opportunity to cross examine them.
Purohit, 39, had said in his plea: “The COI makes an investigation into the criminal offense punishable with jail sentence. Therefore, the mandatory character of Rule 180 cannot be ignored while holding a court martial.”
Purohit, who has been dismissed from service, was arrested in November 2008 in connection with the September 2008 Malegaon blast. The COI had convened on April 7, 2009 and concluded its hearings on September 1, 2010 after it recorded the depositions of witnesses.
“From the perusal of the entire material on record, it appears that certain witnesses were examined on September 1, 2010, wherein Purohit had no opportunity to cross examine them,” the bench said.
Six people were killed and many more injured when a powerful bomb ripped through Maharashtra’s Malegaon town on September 29, 2008.