Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit, an accused in the 2008 Malegaon bomb blast case, told the Bombay high court on Monday that he was "an unsung" hero of the Indian Army, who had suffered much during nearly nine years he spent in prison as an undertrial before being released on bail.
Senior advocate Shrikant Shivade, who appeared for Purohit, urged a bench of Justices SS Shinde and NJ Jamadar to direct the special NIA court in Mumbai to decide his grievance on the issue of prior sanction for prosecution at the earliest.
Through a bunch of pleas filed in the HC, Purohit has sought that all charges against him in the case be dropped.
He has also maintained that the alleged acts of conspiracy committed by him were in discharge of his duties as an officer of the Army, and therefore, the probe agency NIA should have obtained prior sanction of the central government to prosecute him.
There exist previous orders of the HC and the Supreme Court saying that Purohit's grievance on the issue of sanction will be considered by the NIA court at the time of trial.
However, on Monday, Shivade told the HC that since trial in the case had already begun, the NIA court must be directed to decide the issue of sanction now instead of waiting till the conclusion of the trial.
He said there were 500-odd witnesses in the case and only 181 of them had been examined before the NIA court so far.
The trial, therefore, will take a long while to conclude, Shivade told the HC.
"I have spent nine years in jail and have suffered a lot. Though I have been reinstated in service, this is an exception since, I have a good record," Shivade said on behalf of Purohit.
"I am an unsung hero of the Indian Army. Let the trial court decide on the issue of sanction now," he said.
NIA counsel Sandesh Patil, however, opposed Shivade's submissions.
He said charges in the case had been framed and trial had already begun. "Evidence is being led. Let him (Purohit) wait for his turn," Patil told the HC.
Purohit has maintained that while he has been charged by the NIA under anti-terrorism laws, by meeting with other accused persons and participating in conspiracy meetings related to the case, he had merely been collecting information and passing it on to the Army.
Purohit was arrested in the case in 2009 and granted bail by the SC in 2017.
Six people were killed and 100 others injured when a bomb strapped to a motorcycle went off near a mosque in Malegaon town of Nashik district on September 29, 2008.
As per the NIA, the motorbike belonged to Purohit's co-accused and Bharatiya Janata Party Lok Sabha MP Pragya Singh Thakur, who has denied the charge in the past.
The HC will continue hearing the arguments in the case later this month.