The Bombay high court on Friday granted bail to four accused in the 2006 Malegaon blasts case, holding that there were no reasonable grounds to believe that the accusations against them were prima facie true.
The 'incriminating evidence' gathered by investigation agencies against nine others who had been made accused earlier, but discharged later, will also have to be 'kept in mind' while dealing with the present bail pleas, the court also said.
A division bench of Justices I A Mahanty and A M Badar granted bail to Dhan Singh, Lokesh Sharma, Manohar Narwaria and Rajendra Chaudhary.
"The applicants shall be released on cash bail of Rs 50,000. They shall attend the special court on each day during the trial and shall not tamper with evidence or contact witnesses," the bench said.
The four, who are in jail since their arrest in 2013, had approached the high court in 2016 after a special court rejected their bail pleas in June that year.
The serial bomb blasts outside a cemetery near Hamidia mosque at Malegaon near Nashik on September 8, 2006, claimed 37 lives and injured over 100 people.
"From the evidence and material available on record, it is not possible to conclude that there are reasonable grounds for believing that accusations against the appellants are prima facie true," the court said, adding that therefore, they are entitled to be released on bail.
The Maharashtra's Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS), which first probed the case, had initially arrested nine accused from the minority community. The case was later handed over to the CBI, which followed the same line of investigation.
When the probe was taken over by the National Investigation Agency later, it concluded that the blasts were carried out by people belonging to the majority community.
The NIA decided to drop charges against the nine accused and booked Singh, Sharma, Narwaria and Chaudhary. The special trial court in 2016 accepted the NIA's stand and discharged the nine accused.
The special NIA court while rejecting the present four accused persons' bail pleas had held that there are reasonable grounds to believe that accusations were prima facie true.
The high court on Friday, however, noted that the special court should not have ignored the reports submitted by the earlier investigating agencies (ATS and CBI).
"The special court is duty-bound to consider all reports, entire record and documents submitted by the Anti Terrorism Squad, CBI as well as the NIA," the HC said.
The bench noted that the charge sheet filed by the ATS clearly showed that those who were initially arraigned as accused in the case had held several meetings for conspiring to commit terrorist and subversive activities at Malegaon in order to incite Muslims and cause a riot.
It further added that the ATS had submitted to the court forensic evidence to show that RDX was used in the blasts, and the samples collected from the earlier accused persons' houses showed traces of RDX.
The second investigating agency, CBI, too submitted evidence against those nine accused, the court observed.
"This incriminating evidence available against those nine accused will have to be kept in mind while deciding the appeals (seeking bail) filed by the present applicants, who came to be impleaded as accused persons by the third investigating agency (NIA)," the court said.
Besides seeking bail, Singh and others had challenged the discharge of the nine earlier accused. The four accused also challenged the special court's order rejecting their own applications seeking discharge.
Those appeals will be heard by the high court at a later stage.
Apart from these four, the NIA had named four more persons as accused, who are absconding.
While the NIA dropped the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) from the case, it charged the accused under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), Explosive Substances Act and the Explosives Act.