The Karnataka police has allegedly identified a “hit squad” which is on the run following the murder of BJP youth worker Praveen Nettaru, 32, in Bellare village of the state’s Dakshina Kannada district.
Despite the decision of the state BJP government to hand over the Nettaru case to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) following political pressure, the Karnataka police are attempting to bring the investigation to the point of key arrests before the handover to avoid the loss of momentum due to a change in the probe agency.
“We have been able to identify the persons involved in the crime, the place where the conspiracy occurred, and the persons who carried out the attack. We know the identities of the hit squad but we need to catch them now. We are making all efforts to catch them and I believe we will succeed soon,” Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Alok Kumar said in Mangaluru.
“We will see the progress and move the case to the NIA. The Karnataka police will not give up the responsibility of finding the killers. Even though the whole case is yet to be cracked, the Karnataka police will finish the job of finding the killers. We will crack the case…even if the final probe is being given to another agency,’” ADGP Kumar said on Thursday.
Nettaru was hacked to death outside his poultry store on the main road in Bellare village on the night of July 26 while he was leaving for the day. The Dakshina Kannada police have so far arrested four people who allegedly provided peripheral support for the murder. The arrested accused are Mohammed Shafiq, Zakir Savanoor, Saddam, and Harris, all residents of Bellare and its surrounding villages. Two of the accused are linked to the Popular Front of India (PFI). The main attackers were allegedly sheltered and fed by Shafiq and Zakir during the days before the murder.
Nettaru’s murder occurred in the shadow of the murder of an 18-year-old Muslim youth in Bellare on July 20 by a gang of eight men, including some associated with the Bajrang Dal.
Police are also looking at the possibility of religious animosity playing a part on accounts of passions running high in the region over issues like a call for the boycott of halal meat made by Hindutva groups and issues like barring the hijab in colleges.
Soon after Nettaru’s murder, the BJP government in Karnataka decided to hand over the case to the NIA. Karnataka MP Shobha Karandlaje wrote to Union Home Minister Amit Shah seeking an NIA probe in the case. However, despite the government decision, the state police are yet to issue orders for the handover.
“Even though the case is being given to the NIA, the Karnataka police will play a part in the probe. We have not handed over the case to the NIA as yet. They are in touch with us and we are sharing information on the progress. We are in touch with central agencies also,” ADGP Kumar said.
The ADGP was dispatched to Dakshina Kannada on July 26 by the state police in order to bring the law and order situation under control amid rising tensions over the murder. He has also been monitoring the probe of the murders at Bellare and the subsequent murder of 23-year-old Mohammed Fazil on July 28 in the Surathkal region in the Mangaluru City police station limits. The Mangaluru city police have arrested a gang of six people for Fazil’s murder.
Following the three communally tinged murders in the coastal region from July 20 to July 28, the Karnataka police are also taking a re-look at policing measures used in the region to control the seemingly unrestricted proliferation of communal gangs in recent years which has resulted in multiple tit-for-tat murders occurring in the last two decades.
“An investigation is not only about arresting the accused. Sometimes even after arrests in cases of major crime, the prosecution is not pursued properly, the accused obtain bail easily and the cases lead to acquittals,” ADGP Kumar said. “We are carrying out an exercise of finding the accused involved in communal crimes in the past in the region, we are finding out what these people are doing and what preventive action has been taken, whether the Goonda Act has been invoked against serial criminals, and whether actions like externment of goondas has been ordered,” Kumar added.
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He said that they were also looking into the trials of such cases. “The Deepak Rao murder case, the Sharath Madivala case, the Pinky Nawaz case, and there was a murder in Vitala. We are looking at the progress in all these cases…We do not want a situation where those who are released return to crime,” ADGP Kumar said.
“We have to break the cycle of violence. We have visited the jail and action has to be taken on prison activities. If there is an accused who is absconding, we have to find them or declare them proclaimed offenders, seize their properties and use different laws to bring them to book. There is a need for stricter measures to be put in place in the erstwhile Dakshina Kannada and Udupi region,” the ADGP said.
He added that there needs to be stronger intelligence on the organisations in the region and that the police have asked for close monitoring of people involved in all the organisations.
The polarised Mangaluru City and Dakshina Kannada region frequently witnesses murders involving gangs from both sides of the communal divide.