Mumbai artist, lawyer murder: A two-year hunt continues even as the trail goes coldhttps://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/artists-hema-upadhyaya-lawyer-harish-bhambani-murder-a-two-year-hunt-continues-even-as-the-trail-goes-cold-5008102/

Mumbai artist, lawyer murder: A two-year hunt continues even as the trail goes cold

Rajbhar, prime accused in the Hema Upadhyaya murder case, has been on the run for two years now.

mumbai artists lawyer murder, hema updhyaya, harish bhambani, mumbai twin murder case, mumbai police crime branch, indian express
The location at Dahunkarwadi Nalla where the bodies of Hema Upadhyay and Harish Bhambani were found. (Archive)

It’s unsual for the Mumbai Police to keep track of residents’ birthdays, but in the case of the daughter of Vidyadhar Rajbhar (28), the Mumbai Police Crime Branch has kept a close watch on her birthday for two consecutive years. Rajbhar, prime accused in the Hema Upadhyaya murder case, has been on the run for two years now.

On December 12, 2015, the bodies of renowned artist Hema Upadhyaya (43) and her lawyer Harish Bhambani (65) were found in a drain in Kandivali, suburban Mumbai. They appeared to have been killed the previous day. Following questioning, Hema’s ex-husband Chintan, who is a celebrated contemporary artist, was arrested along with four others. Rajbhar, a metal fabrication artist, used to take on fabrication jobs for Chintan’s artworks.

Rajbhar, a key accused in the murder case, has been on the run since, first taking a train northward with other accused before alighting mid-way and vanishing. He has managed to evade the Mumbai Police for over two years now.

An officer from the Crime Branch said, “Rajbhar’s daughter’s birthday is on October 20. This year was her second birthday. We were expecting him to call last year as it was her first birthday and we had a team at their residence. We then expected him to call this year, but he didn’t. We even had our team ready, to get a hold of him immediately once we get his location.” When he fled first, his daughter was barely two months’ old.

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Investigators are hoping Rajbhar’s patience will wear out. Believing that as he is not a hardened criminal, he may call home on special occasions. They keep a watch on phone calls to his residence, on his daughter’s birthday and on his wedding anniversary.

Following the incident, eight special teams were formed to trace Rajbhar. Teams were dispatched to different locations, starting from Madhya Pradesh.

“Initially we got his location to Madhya Pradesh, so a team was dispatched there. Then a different team was sent to Kochi and Tripura. Rajbhar tried to mislead us in every way possible, so he kept travelling by train. We couldn’t get his exact location,” said an officer.

February 2, 2016 was the last date that the police had a specific clue about his location. A team was dispatched to Chennai after he made a phone call to a brother-in-law, asking whether the police were still looking for him. However, he managed to escape from Chennai by the time a police team could get to him.

“Rajbhar’s brother-in-law came to the police station and informed the police about the call. A team was instantly sent, but by then he had left the city. We then traced the IMEI number and it turned out to be a constable’s. We checked with the constable there, who claimed that his phone had been stolen,” said an officer.

In May 2016, the case was transferred to the Crime Branch and higher level officers ordered all units to trace Rajbhar.

A special team was even deputed to keep a tab on his wife’s movements as she attended computer classes. The police said that earlier she lived with her daughter at Rajbhar’s Kandivali residence, but later she shifted to Charkop to be with her parents.

A Crime Branch officer said, “During festivals such as Ganesh Chaturthi and Navratri, we keep a check on all shops involved in idol making. We also formed teams that would go and visit all the idol making shops on the outskirts of Mumbai, such as Virar, Palghar, Ulhasnagar, etc.”

The arrest of Rajbhar would be a major breakthrough, helping investigators establish Chintan Upadhyaya’s alleged role in the crime. For now, while his bail plea and discharge plea have been rejected, a sessions court will soon frame charges in the case.

Since September 2016, teams started combing mortuaries in search of his body, believing there was a possibility he may have committed suicide. The police have also circulated his photograph to all mortuaries across Maharashtra, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

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Since December 12, 2015, police teams have already visited nearly a dozen cities across India on the trail of Rajbhar, keeping an eye on art workshops where he may go in search of work. Asked if he may have left India, an officer investigating the case said, “We do not believe he has left the country as all his documents including his passport are at home.” Investigators haven’t ruled out the possibility, however. The Mumbai Police have also announced an award of Rs 1 lakh for any information on him.

Senior Police Inspector Satish Teware from the Crime Branch Unit 7 said, “We are doing everything possible to find him and I am sure that we will trace him soon.”

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