A KOLHAPUR court on Saturday granted bail to Sameer Gaikwad, a member of the Sanatan Sanstha, who was arrested in connection with the murder of CPI leader Govind Pansare in Kolhapur. Additional Sessions Judge L D Bile passed the order in this regard. Assailants had shot at Pansare and his wife Uma while the couple was returning home from a morning walk on February 16, 2015. While Pansare succumbed to his injuries on February 20, Uma, who sustained a bullet injury, survived. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) was formed by the state government to investigate the case. The SIT had arrested Gaikwad on September 16, 2015, based on the surveillance of cellphone calls. He was booked under sections 302, 307, 206, 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and under the Arms Act.
On December 14, 2015, the SIT filed a 372-page chargesheet against Gaikwad before Judicial Magistrate (first class) R D Dange in the Kolhapur court. The chargesheet had as many as 77 witnesses, including a 14-year-old boy, who reportedly identified Sameer Gaikwad at the location of the crime during an identification parade. However, Gaikwad’s lawyers, Samir Patwardhan and Virendra Ichalkaranjikar, argued that there were contradictions in the statements of witnesses. “A witness stated that he saw two persons killing Pansare and identified Sameer Gaikwad as one of them. But later, Uma Pansare gave a statement, saying the persons who opened fire were Vinay Pawar and Sarang Akolkar. So, there is a clear contradiction,” said Ichalkaranjikar.
To counter this, on Friday, Special Public Prosecutor Harshad Nimbalkar had told the court about a witness who said he had seen four persons moving suspiciously around the crime scene. But Ichalkaranjikar said, “This witness never identified Gaikwad. Also, this witness claims to have seen four persons a day before the murder. This does not prove Gaikwad’s involvement.”
“Investigators have claimed that two pistols were used for killing Pansare. One of these pistols was used for killing Dr Narendra Dabholkar in Pune on August 20, 2013. And another pistol was later used for killing M M Kalburgi in Karnataka on August 30, 2015. But, the pistol used for killing Dabholkar was already recovered by the Pune city police from Manish Nagori (24) and Vilas Khandelwal (22) much before Pansare was killed. We argued that how was it possible to kill Pansare with a pistol that was already seized by the Pune police,” said Ichalkaranjikar.
Nagori and Khandelwal were arrested by Pune Police on June 20, 2014, on the basis of a ballistics report on the firearms seized from the duo. They had been arrested earlier, by Mumbra police, in an extortion case on August 20, 2013, the day when Dabholkar was murdered in Pune. The firearms were seized from the duo by Mumbra police. The report suggested that one of the firearms matched with the “markings” on a cartridge seized from the crime scene. The prosecution opposed Gaikwad’s bail, saying he may go absconding like the other Sanatan Sanstha members , and may also try to pressurise witnesses.
But defence lawyers said their arguments were considered by the court while granting bail to Gaikwad, on conditions that he should surrender his passport to the police, should not visit Kolhapur, should not move out of Maharashtra and should present himself before the SIT every Sunday. Police had reportedly found suspicious phone conversation regarding Pansare’s murder between Gaikwad and Jyoti Kamble of Satara, Kamankar of Yavatmal and Anjali Jarkar of Panvel, all associated with the Sanatan Sanstha.
Gaikwad claimed that he had spoken “jokingly” about Pansare’s murder over the phone. However, police said that the content of the conversation was “serious” and it was hard to believe that he was merely joking. The prosecutor had earlier told the court that a “psychological evaluation” test conducted by CBI experts on Gaikwad revealed that he is “deceptive.”
There was a twist in the case when the CBI arrested Sanatan Sanstha seeker Dr Virendra Tawde on June 10, 2016, to probe his role in the murder of Dabholkar. Tawde was arrested following a statement by a witness, Sanjay Sadwilkar, who said Tawde and Sanatan seekers Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar held meetings with him. Sadwilkar said Tawde wanted him to manufacture replicas of pistols. But Tawade was arrested only after CBI took over the probe.
In August 2016, the SIT took Tawde’s custody to probe his involvement in the Pansare murder case. The SIT filed a chargesheet against Tawde in November, naming his as the prime conspirator and Akolkar, Vinay Pawar and Rudra Patil as wanted accused in the case. The CBI also named both Akolkar and Pawar as the two persons who allegedly shot dead Dabholkar Pawar is missing since 2009 and Akolkar is also wanted in connection with the October 2009 Goa blast case.
Pansare family to move High Court
Meanwhile, Pansare’s daughter-in-law Medha Pansare said they would be challenging Gaikwad’s bail in the Bombay High Court. Abhay Vartak, a spokesperson for the Sanstha, said, “We are sure that Gaikwad is innocent and was framed. There is no evidence against him…”.