IN HIS first acquittal since he was deported in 2015, gangster Rajendra Nikalje alias Chhota Rajan was on Tuesday acquitted in a murder case dating back to 1983. Rajan was booked in the 35-year-old case, when he was a 22-year-old, with the police alleging that he and another accused had stabbed to death a fisherman and smuggler, John Pareira in Juhu on February 21, 1983. Rajan was arrested then, in what was reportedly the first murder case he was suspected to be involved in.
The police alleged that Pareira was killed due to rivalry over smuggling activities. Among the accused was Rajan Nair alias Bada Rajan, the protege of Chhota Rajan. While the accused were arrested after the crime, Chhota Rajan was released on bail and later declared an absconding accused as he did not appear before the court during the trial.
Subsequently, in 1996, seven accused were acquitted in the case. The trial against Rajan and another accused, Ganeshsingh Bisht, was conducted after Rajan’s deportation from Indonesia in 2015. Among the six witnesses examined by special public prosecutor Pradip Gharat were eyewitnesses including Pareira’s daughter, Helen.
Then a nine-year-old, Helen was accompanying her father on a morning walk at Juhu beach along with her two-year-old brother. A group of men had attacked her father, stabbing him multiple times, while she and her brother hid behind a balloon vendor’s stall, watching in horror, according to the prosecution. While deposing in court, Helen, now 44, said she did not remember who the attackers were. She was declared hostile for not supporting the prosecution. Another witness, including a horse-cart puller, also told the court that he could not remember the murderers.
The prosecution examined six witnesses, including panch witnesses present at the time of recovery and seizures of weapons used in the crime.
Advocates Anshuman Sinha and Hasnain Kazi, who represented Rajan and advocate Prakash Shetty, representing Bisht, had submitted that the witnesses could not be relied upon as all of them had said that they could not remember the events that occurred 35 years ago. Due to passage of time, evidentiary items including clothes and weapons connected to the offence were also destroyed, Gharat said. Many witnesses, too, either remained untraceable or have passed away. Chhota Rajan is facing over 70 cases, now being handled by the CBI. He was found guilty on charges including murder for the killing of journalist Jyotirmoy Dey.