The Karnataka Police has moved the Supreme Court over the state High Court’s April 22 decision to drop charges under the stringent Karnataka Control of Organized Crime Act against a key accused person in the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh.
The police filed a special leave petition in the top court on July 26. This came amid criticism that the state BJP government was dragging its feet on the SLP despite the lapse of more than three months since a single-judge High Court bench quashed KCOCA charges against Mohan Nayak, 51 who allegedly provided logistical support for the murder.
The Karnataka Police had sought the filing of an SLP as soon as the April 22 order came out. This was because the ruling had a ripple effect on more than a dozen KCOCA cases in the state. The filing was delayed after the state Home Department sent the files to the Advocate-General to seek his legal opinion.
Amid the delay, Lankesh’s younger sister, Kavitha Lankesh, moved the apex court against the High Court move.
“These are all decisions that have to be considered and taken and the concerned parties are in touch with us. We are deliberating on it,” said the then Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai after the top court issued notices to the police and the state on June 29 following Kavitha Lankesh’s plea. Bommai became Chief Minister on July 28.
Sources in the Home Department said that an opinion was received from the A-G and that the SLP was filed on July 26 on behalf of the Home Department, the state government, the Bengaluru Police and the chief investigating officer of a Special Investigation Team that probed the journalist’s murder.
Nayak moved the Karnataka High Court for bail on the basis of the April 22 order.
On July 13, a single-judge bench of the High Court rejected the his plea on technical grounds — despite conceding the changed situation due to the dropping of the KCOCA charges.
Nayak is accused along with five others of being part of a right-wing organised crime syndicate that was involved in the murder of Lankesh. An “alternative medicine” practitioner, he allegedly rented a house near Lankesh’s residence in order to allow her killers to use it as a base.
The KCOCA law was invoked in the Gauri Lankesh murder case since the crime involved a killing with guns by an organised crime syndicate where many members have a history of similar violent crimes.
Under KCOCA, a person is considered to be involved in “continuing unlawful activity” if any one person in the group of people accused of a crime has more than one chargesheet for similar offences filed against their name in the preceding 10 years.
Although Nayak did not have any prior chargesheet against him, he was booked under KCOCA since as many as five of the 17 arrested for the Lankesh murder faced more than one chargesheet for similar crimes in the last 10 years.
The Karnataka High Court, in its order of April 22, quashed the August 14, 2018 order of the Bengaluru police commissioner invoking KCOCA in the Lankesh murder case with reference to Nayak. It said he was not involved in “continuing unlawful activities” as defined in KCOCA.
“In the case on hand there was no registration of any case or filing of any charge sheet or taking of any cognisance even in individual capacity of the petitioner, much less as member of the organized crime syndicate or the commission of crime for and on behalf of the crime syndicate,” said the High Court.
KCOCA, introduced in 2000, has been used by the Karnataka Police since 2015 as a strong measure to control organised crime. This is because the clauses in the law on bail, evidence, and culpability, among others, are beneficial to the police in bringing persons accused in organized and violent crimes to book.
There are as many as 17 KCOCA cases pending in the state. Most of the cases involve killings by gangs of rivals or threats issued to businessmen.
The law was first used by the Karnataka Police against a gang linked to the underworld don Bannanje Raja. The gang members were arrested for the December 2013 daylight shooting of the trader R N Naik in Ankola Town in coastal Karnataka for refusing an extortion bid.
Although gangster Bannanje Raja himself did not face multiple chargesheets — when he was deported from Morocco in 2015 — the police invoked KCOCA against him as many others arrested for the shooting had several chargesheets against them.
In Maharashtra and Delhi, the Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act, 1999 — which is the model for the KCOCA, 2000 — has been extensively used against organized criminals and their abettors for several years now.