The brutal murder of BJP leader Sachin Shelke in Talegaon Dabhade on Sunday is not the first incident in the otherwise sleepy town located along the Pune-Mumbai Highway.
Deadly attacks are common in this town. There is a background of disputes arising from large land holdings by a few families from the medieval era. The area also has connections with the underworld in Mumbai from 1980s and rapid industrialisation post 90s has led to ‘contract wars’ between the families.
On Sunday morning, Sachin Shelke, (39), who was former president of the Talegaon Dabhade Municipal Council, was murdered in broad daylight by a group of more than 10 people. Late on Sunday evening, local police registered an offence against more than 11 people, including Shyam Dabhade, who has as many as 17 offences registered against him in the past.
A senior police officer, who has been in-charge of the Talegaon Dabhade Police Station in the past, said, “Take every major crime in this town, it will have some or the other connection with people from a five-six families who have historically dominated the area. During the medieval era, especially at the time of Maratha kings, these families received large tracts of land as grants. Thus, these families have been the major land owners in the area. There have been fights between these families over decades.”
The officer added, “Some of the members of these historically well-off families entered politics in the post-Independence era. Meanwhile, the families kept sparring with one another. An important change happened in the 1980s when some underworld gangs from Mumbai came in contact with these families. It is from this point that a nexus between local politicians-land owners and criminals started developing.”
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An IPS officer, who has served in Pune in the past said, “A major turning point came in the early 90s when this belt saw fast industrialisation. Towards the mid-1990s, a pattern was seen in rural areas around Pune, and the areas of Talegaon Dabhade-Chakan and Maval belt were no exception. There was large-scale development, and industrial projects started coming up, the Expressway, highways, dedicated industrial areas under the flagship of the MIDC also came up.”
These projects required large-scale land acquisition and soon followed, a vicious cycle of land grabbing, fuelling the organised crime, the officer added.
He further said, “When large industries came up in this area, these families who already had earned a lot of money, started fighting for contracts to provide labourers to industries, contracts of transport and construction. The construction activities in these areas needed large earthmoving equipment.”
According to locals, these days, there is a competition among families over who has more earthmover machinery. So the political-criminal nexus was fuelled by industrialisation and related contracts. “This is nothing but a contract war. Till this day, they keep fighting with one another. The reasons for particular fights might be different, but the fights have their roots in this feud,” said a local resident.
An officer, currently serving in Pune rural police, said, “The stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act is an important tool against these criminals. One important aspect in MCOCA cases is the financial motive behind the crime. The purpose is not just to arrest criminals and put them in jail but also to keep a check on flow of money. But for this, we also need co-operation from the industries. We need people to come forward and give us information, and file complaints so that we can act. In 2015 and 2016, till now, we have acted against more than 25 gangs in Pune district under MCOCA and put over 150 criminals behind bars.”
*Sept 2016: The local crime branch of Pune Rural Police had arrested a 12-member gang for possessing four pistols, 23 live cartridges and sharp weapons, who had ‘planned’ murder of Talegaon Dabhade Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Bapu Jaywantrao Bhegade.
*Sept 2015: Balasaheb Kedari, the newly-elected president of Adhe village, near Talegaon, was murdered following political rivalry.
*Dec 2015: Considering the rising land prices and the increase in cases of land scams, the superintendent of Pune rural police asked the complainants to approach economic offences wing (EOW) instead of police stations, where manpower is limited and is unable to probe land frauds properly.
*Jan 13, 2010: RTI activist Satish Shetty was murdered in Talegaon Dabhade on this date. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probing this murder case has arrested former Pune rural police officers, inspector Bhausaheb Andhalkar and assistant inspector Namdev Kauthale in this case.
CBI is also probing an alleged land scam exposed by Shetty using documents obtained under Right To Information, an offence for which is registered at the Lonavla city police station.