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Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Lankesh murder: Despite missing deadline, Karnataka government manages to stay HC order lifting KCOCA charges against accused

RTI reveals the state government delayed filing an SLP despite prosecutors and Bengaluru Police pressing for an SLP soon after the High Court order.

Written by Johnson T A | Bengaluru |
Updated: October 22, 2021 12:12:58 am
Gauri Lankesh. (File)

Despite overshooting the 90-day deadline to file special leave petitions in criminal matters in the Supreme Court, the state of Karnataka has obtained a favourable order in the prosecution of a criminal case against an alleged member of an extremist organised crime syndicate involved in the killing of the journalist Gauri Lankesh on September 5, 2017.

Efforts made by Kavitha Lankesh, the sister of the slain journalist, to file a timely appeal in the Supreme Court against an April 22-order of the Karnataka High Court to drop charges under the Karnataka Control of Organized Crime Act (KCOCA) of 2000 against accused Mohan Nayak has resulted in the SC quashing the April 22 Karnataka High Court order Thursday.

A three-judge bench of the Supreme Court in its order Thursday, in pleas filed by Kavita Lankesh and the Karnataka government, ruled that a single judge of the Karnataka High Court erred in quashing an August 14, 2018 sanction given by the Bengaluru police commissioner to invoke KCOCA against Mohan Nayak and others after investigations revealed the murder of Lankesh was carried out by an organized syndicate whose members were provided training in the use of guns.

“Further, the High Court has clearly exceeded its jurisdiction in quashing the chargesheet filed against the writ petitioner Mohan Nayak N for offences punishable under Section 28 3(2), 3(3) and 3(4) of the 2000 Act at this stage [of prior approval under Section 24(1)(a)],” the SC said.

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Despite the seemingly blatant miscarriage of justice in the High Court order of April 22, the BJP government in Karnataka dragged its feet in filing a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court in the matter and eventually filed its plea only on July 26 after Kavita Lankesh moved the SC on June 10 in her capacity as the original complainant in the case of the murder of her sister.

Nayak, an activist of a radical Right-wing Hindutva group that is linked to the murder, has been charged by the police of helping organise the journalist’s murder. The organised crime syndicate, whose members were drawn from various extremist Hindutva outfits are also accused in the murders of Kannada scholar M M Kalburgi, 77, Leftist thinker Govind Pansare, 81, in 2015 and rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, 69, in 2013.

The trail of the Karnataka government’s decision-making process to file an SLP in the SC against the April 22 High Court order for the dropping of KCOCA charges on Nayak, obtained through RTI applications filed with the state police department, Bengaluru Police and the Karnataka Home Department in July, reveals that the state government delayed filing an SLP despite prosecutors and Bengaluru Police pressing for an SLP soon after the High Court order.

The trail of the decision-making process of the Karnataka government gathered from responses to RTI pleas filed by The Indian Express reveals that the Special Investigation Team of Karnataka Police received a report on April 26, 2021 from the High Court’s special public prosecutor in the Gauri Lankesh case saying the April 22 order of the High Court is fit for being appealed against in the SC.

SIT officials wrote to the office of the Director General of Police in Karnataka on May 3, 2021 regarding the April 22 order along with the report of the special public prosecutor. The letter stated that the case is sensitive and serious and that the Karnataka High Court’s order for quashing the prior approval given for use of KCOCA in the case must be challenged in the Supreme Court.

According to an RTI reply provided on August 18 this year by the state Home Department, a special committee headed by the state additional chief secretary (home) Rajneesh Goel – which decides on filing cases in the Supreme Court — held a meeting on June 8 to discuss the issue of filing an SLP over the dropping of KCOCA charges against Nayak.

“The case was discussed in the meeting held on June 8 this year. It was observed in the meeting that the case was serious and sensitive and had created a sensation in the country. It was decided after discussions that it would be appropriate to obtain the opinion of the advocate general before taking the next step,” said a report on a meeting held by the special committee on July 9.

According to the July 9 meeting report of the special committee – the chairman of the committee and the state home secretary were contacted over telephone by the advocate general of Karnataka and told that a decision on filing an SLP can be taken by the committee and its experts itself.

The special committee decided, on the advice of internal experts, that the case must be appealed in the Supreme Court since it involves a key legal point on invoking KCOCA against all the accused in a crime — if KCOCA charges are invoked against one person in the case.

Based on the clearance provided by the special committee of the Home Department, the Karnataka government filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court on July 26. Incidentally, in non-Covid times, the limitation period for filing SLPs in the Supreme Court in criminal cases is 60 days or 90 days – depending on whether a death penalty in involved – after a High Court verdict.

Kavitha Lankesh had approached the Supreme Court earlier on June 10 with an SLP against the Karnataka High Court order of April 22 after growing alarmed over the delays in the Karnataka government’s decision-making process for filing an SLP.

When contacted, Kavitha had said she decided to move SC since she felt “she could not wait for the government to decide” on a plea against the April 22 High Court order on KCOCA.

“It is not a personal murder or anything. My sister’s murder was a political murder. It is not just her, there were three more people who were victims and so there are three more families who have been affected and it is important they take all that into account,” she said.

“The lifting of KCOCA will affect not just this case but also so many other cases,” she said.

The then minister for home and law in the Karnataka government Basavaraj Bommai – who became Chief Minister on July 28 — had stated in July before the state’s SLP was filed, that the matter was still under deliberation. “These are all decisions that have to be considered and taken and the parties concerned are in touch with us. We are deliberating on it,” Bommai had said.

Lankesh, 55, an outspoken critic of Right-wing Hindutva, was shot dead outside her home in west Bengaluru on the night of September 5, 2017 by two motorcycle-borne assassins.

A Special Investigation Team of Karnataka Police arrested and charged 17 people linked to extremist Right-wing Hindutva groups who created a syndicate to carry out killings and attacks on critics primarily in Karnataka and Maharashtra between 2013-2018.

“The members of this organisation targeted persons who they identified to be inimical to their belief and ideology. The members strictly followed the guidelines and principles mentioned in ‘Kshatra Dharma Sadhana’, a book published by Sanatan Sanstha,” the SIT said after it filed a chargesheet against the accused in the case on November 23, 2018.


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