A SPECIAL CBI court on Wednesday handed life sentence to gangster Rajendra Nikalje alias Chhota Rajan and eight others for the murder of senior journalist Jyotirmoy Dey. The court observed that Dey’s reports on Rajan would have hurt the gangster’s “ego”, leading him to “mastermind” the attack.
This is the first major case in which Chhota Rajan, who faces 70 other cases and has been lodged in Tihar Jail ever since he was deported to India in 2015, has been convicted.
The court acquitted two others accused in the case — former journalist Jigna Vora and Joseph Paulson. Dey, 56, who was earlier with The Indian Express, was working with Mid-Day when he was gunned down in Powai on June 11, 2011.
“By committing murder of J Dey who was a reputed journalist, a clear message was sent to the media and, through the media, to the general public and rivals that the organised crime syndicate of the accused No.12 Chhota Rajan was very much alive and kicking, that nobody should dare to say anything against him, and if anybody dared to do so, then he would meet the same fate as J Dey. Thus, the advantage which was sought to be taken was to establish fear in the minds of the people and to show that the organised crime syndicate of Rajan was still strong and active,” Special Judge Sameer Adkar said in his order.
The court said there was nothing to suggest that Vora had instigated Rajan to commit Dey’s murder. “Even in the extra-judicial confessions made by accused No. 12 Chhota Rajan… he has nowhere stated that he got Dey murdered because of instigation by Vora or anybody else,” it said.
Vora was arrested in the case in November 2011, and was granted bail in July 2012.
Relying on three retracted confessions of the accused, Rajan’s extra-judicial confessions to four mediapersons on the phone, and other forensic evidence, the court said two newspaper reports by Dey, days before his death, had angered the gangster. The court said Rajan thought the reports made him look “weak” as compared to rival Dawood Ibrahim.
Rajan attended court proceedings via video conferencing from Tihar Jail. When the judge informed Rajan that Dey was found to have been murdered on his instructions, the gangster replied “accha”. Asked if he wanted to say something, he declined. The judge told him, in Marathi, that the sentence would be pronounced in the evening, to which the gangster responded with a “theek aahe” in Marathi.
The court observed that the only eyewitness, who had identified some of the accused in August 2011, could not be traced during the trial. “It is not necessary to discuss as to why in cases like the present one, important witnesses either go missing or do not support the case of the prosecution. Necessary inference may be drawn,” it said.
On the absence of other eyewitnesses, the court said it was raining heavily on the day of the incident. “Ever since the flooding of Mumbai because of the heavy rains on and after 26/07/2005, most people of Mumbai avoid going outside when it is raining heavily… Therefore, it is quite possible that at the time of the incident, not many people were walking on the road,” the court observed.
Special Public Prosecutor Pradeep Gharat submitted that the accused should not be shown leniency since the attack on the journalist was an attack on the fourth pillar of democracy.
Chhota Rajan’s lawyers submitted that he was a “victim of circumstances” and was suffering from various ailments.
The others who were convicted and sentenced are: Rohit Joseph alias Satish Kaliya, the shooter; Anil Waghmode, Arun Dake and Mangesh Aagavane, who were with Joseph when Dey was shot; Sachin Gaikwad, who kept a watch on Dey and provided his motorcycle for the attack; Abhijeet Shinde and Nilesh Shedge, who travelled to Nainital to get the revolver; and Deepak Sisodiya, who arranged for ammunition.
They were convicted of various charges including murder, criminal conspiracy and sections of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) and Arms Act. Their lawyers said they would file an appeal before the High Court.
While eight of them were ordered to pay a fine of Rs 26 lakh each, Deepak Sisodiya was directed to pay Rs 15 lakh. The court directed that Rs 5 lakh should be given to Dey’s sister, Leena.
“The police, CBI and lawyers did their best. However, my brother is gone forever. Even if those convicted in the case are sentenced to life, at least their family members will be able to see them. My brother will not come back,” said Leena. “I lost my mother, who died pining for my brother.”
Retired IPS officer Arup Patnaik, who was the Mumbai Police Commissioner when Dey was killed, said, “I am happy that the main people, including the shooters and Chhota Rajan, have been convicted… While we did not have watertight evidence against Jigna Vora, we felt she was an important link in the entire conspiracy.”
“This is a victory for the entire police team who worked hard on the case. There was immense pressure to solve the case at the earliest,” said retired Mumbai Police officer Ramesh Mahale, who was part of the team that first investigated the case.
After Rajan’s arrest in 2015, the case was transferred to the CBI, which filed a supplementary chargesheet against him. The CBI had said Dey was writing a book which would expose Rajan’s “fake patriotic mask”. The CBI also claimed that Rajan did not like being included in a book titled Chindi-Rags to Riches on 20 gangsters including him.
The court, however, rejected the CBI’s contention, observing that only Dey and his publisher knew about the book.
The prosecution examined 155 prosecution witnesses, including Dey’s wife, his colleagues, and forensic and medical experts.