Lt Col Purohit invokes RTI to prove innocence

Suffering prolonged incarceration of nearly five years on charges of conspiracy in the September 2008 Malegaon blasts case, and claiming to have been framed while doing his duty as an Army intelligence officer, Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit is now invoking the Right to Information Act (RTI) to bring out facts connected with his case and hopefully establish his innocence.

Under persistent pressure from the Central Information Commission (CIC), the Army authorities last July finally admitted to receiving intelligence from Purohit regarding a rampant fake currency racket with efficient modules in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Gujarat, and involving certain top politicians, police and Government officials. The report hints at a compromised national security. Close confidants of Purohit believe he was implicated because he was getting ‘too close’ to some high profile persons.

Senior intelligence expert, late B Raman, had opined that Army intelligence was operating beyond its remit in collecting the kind of intelligence that Purohit was gathering, and this could be a reason why the Army never stepped forward to save him once he was arrested. If this is true, there could be larger story behind the deployment of Purohit, an extremely intelligent and capable officer, for tasks that normally engage the attention of the Intelligence Bureau.

Initially, Purohit, lodged at the Taloja Central Prison, Navi Mumbai, applied to the relevant Army authorities for information regarding his movement orders from the AEC Training College and Centre, Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh, where he had been sent to study Arabic. This order – and its tampering – set off the sequence of events that led to his arrest, where too, proper procedures were not followed.

According to Purohit, he was given a Movement Order (MO) ex-Pachmarhi to Delhi. But later, a new movement order was issued ex-Pachmarhi to Mumbai at 3 Det SCLU, but this MO was allegedly not handed over to Purohit as is the usual procedure. This second order was amended by hand and Purohit ordered to report to Provost Unit HQ MG&G Area at Mumbai.

After being denied information vide RTI application dated May 28, 2012, Purohit appealed to Information Commissioner ML Sharma for information regarding: (i) authority which issued the Movement Order ex-Pachmarhi to Mumbai 3 Det SCLU and (ii) authority which directed Col RK Srivastava to amend the above order to ex-Pachmarhi to Mumbai Provost Unit, MG&G Area.

Purohit further demanded information regarding: (i) File No 106/LU/G of/maintained by 1 Team 3 Det SCLU, located at Devlali, Nasik, and copies of letters, reports forwarded by 1 Team 3 Det SCLU and received by HQ SCLU c/o 56 APO, (ii) source card issue notebook/register of/maintained by 1 Team 3 Det SCLU at Devlali, Nasik [This contains details of the Confidential Informers from whom he received information and paid money]. The period for which information was sought was from January 30, 2005 to January 1, 2008.

Purohit specifically sought certain letters from File No 106/LU/G of 1 Team 3 Det SCLU (which he listed from memory with dates, and which pertained to: illegal traffic of ammunition; Maoist activities; Kashmiri (terror) settlements; recovery of explosives; SIMI activities and likely SIMI activities in Pune; Bangladesh nationals and spectrum of activities; Haj House; changing trends in Islamic radicals with reference to Malegaon blast 2006; and a presentation on ISI and SIMI).

Further, he demanded copy of a letter regarding activities of Dawood Ibrahim forwarded by him in capacity as IO 1 Teach (then ‘A’ Team), 3 Det SCLU in June or July 2005. He pointed out that 1 Team 3 Det SCLU has maintained ‘Source Card Register/Note Book’ having entries of Sources/Informers with regards to their names and particulars and photographs. He sought details of persons issued Source Cards by Team and photocopies of pages of said register/note book pertaining to period under reference. He specified certain names – Rakesh Dattatray Dhawade (Source No 10), Sudhakar Onkarnath Chaturvedi (s no 11), Chetan Dhakan (s no 12), Ganesh Patil (s no 18), Somnath Gunjal (s no 20) and Varsha Rakesh Dhawade (s no 9).

The Army authorities, caught in a bind, repeatedly refused to provide information, invoking  Section 8 (1) (h) of the RTI Act 2005 which states, “If information sought impedes investigation in matter, cannot be given/can be refused…”; this has become the standard defence of the Government when it wishes to deny information to an applicant.

In May 2012, pursuing his line of enquiry, Purohit further sought information regarding “fake currency racket” which he had forwarded in the month of October or November or December 2007 to his superiors, while attending the Arabic language course at Pachmarhi. This information was provided, and substantiates his claims that he kept his superiors informed about all his activities.

On 19 February 2013, Lt Col Prasad Purohit’s application of 28 July 2012 under the RTI Act was heard by Central Information Commission (File No. CIC/SL/A/2013/000292). The Army was represented by Col Devender Yadav, Military Intelligence Directorate, Col Binod Kumar and Maj P Nagraj, who argued that giving the information could impede investigations in the case.

However, Purohit’s counsel, Neela Gokhale, argued that the objection was invalid as the investigation was over and the chargesheet had already been filed in the case in 2009. The CIC ruled that the Army cannot use investigation as an excuse for refusal as it is NOT the investigating agency, which alone can offer this excuse. The Maharashtra ATS was asked to appear before the CIC with documents on February 19, 2013, but the ATS failed to appear at the April 22, 2013 hearing and forwarded the summons to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) as the Centre had transferred the case to the NIA in 2011.

The NIA, when it appeared before the CIC, took the plea that it was exempted from the purview of the RTI Act and hence need not comply with the orders. The NIA also said it had photocopies of only four documents and the Army had the rest and could give them. Counsel pointed out that Purohit had not asked NIA for the documents, but the Army only. Caught in a bind, the Army argued that the documents pertained to national security and were classified.

As of now, the issue is still hanging fire before the CIC.

Niticentral, 18 July 2013

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