A deputy superintendent of police, leading a team on foot in the neighbourhood of Gadchinchle village in Palghar to round up suspects the day after the April 16 lynching of two sadhus and their driver, had to fire two shots with his weapon to save himself and his squad from a stone pelting mob that had surrounded them.
The Maharashtra Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had last week filed a third chargesheet against 47 men at a magistrate court in Dahanu after completing its probe into an attempt to murder Jawhar Division DySP Bhagwat Sonawane and 14 other policemen on the morning of April 17.
The 658-page chargesheet included statements of 56 witnesses and mentioned as accused some of the same 126 men booked for the murder of the sadhus and their driver and attempting to murder policemen in the two earlier chargesheets filed by CID last month.
In addition, 18 of the 28 men not named as accused in the first two chargesheets were named as accused in the latest one.
The 14-member police squad was tasked by then Palghar SP Gaurav Singh with tracking down the men who had lynched Mahant Kalpavruksha Giri (70) and Sushilgiri Maharaj (35) and their driver Nilesh Telgade (30) late April 16. The sadhus were returning to Mumbai after being sent back by forest department guards at Dadra & Nagar Haveli for attempting to travel to Surat for a funeral with valid permissions amid lockdown.
In his statement to the CID, which forms a part of the chargesheet, Sonawane had said that around 400 to 500 men had fled into the forests surrounding Gadchinchle after the police arrived in large numbers on April 17. By 8.15 am, the police had apprehended five suspects before Singh ordered Sonawane to search the forest in police vehicles. According to the chargesheet, by 9.30 am, the squad was forced to proceed up a hill on foot as there were no motorable roads ahead.
Sonawane had told CID that his team was quickly surrounded by villagers, who began pelting stones at them. “I told the villagers they had formed an unlawful assembly and appealed to them to disperse, failing which I would be compelled to use force,” he said.
However, Soanwane added that his announcement angered the villagers even further. In the renewed stone pelting that followed, Constable Prakash Padher was struck on the leg and Constable Nitin Waghmode was hit on the head and leg. “It became necessary to defend ourselves from the mob, as in spite of multiple appeals, they became more and more aggressive and threatened to kill us,” Sonawane said in his statement.
To protect himself and his men and to disperse the crowd, Sonawane took a 9 mm pistol from Constable Dyaneshwar Pawar’s hip holster and fired once in the direction of the mob. However, this only incensed the villagers further, said the chargesheet.
Recalling the next few tense minutes, Sonawane told the CID that the mob began to pelt stones using handheld slingshots and some men screamed “kill these policemen with stones just like we killed those men last night”.
Sonawane further said that another appeal to the villagers to disperse and a warning that he would use force, only served to increase the intensity of the stone pelting. He fired another bullet into the mob, causing them to scatter in different directions, but no one was injured in the firing, the chargesheet said.
In the ensuing chaos, Vinesh Dharma Bhavar (22), a native of Divshi Kamalpada village, was arrested.
The squad then returned to Gadchinchle and Sonawane registered a case of attempt to murder, rioting, forming an unlawful assembly and causing hurt against Bhavar and 400 to 500 unidentified men the Kasa police station the same day.
However, in subsequent statements to the CID, Sonawane admitted that his initial statement, on the basis of which the FIR was registered, contained three crucial mistakes – the place where the alleged offence took place, when it occurred and the size of the mob had been inaccurately written.
He clarified that the offence took place at a hill in Divshi Shetpada village and not at the forest check post in Gadchinchle. It took place between 8.15 am and 9.30 am on April 17 and not between midnight and 8.20 am. “There were 100 to 125 people in the mob and not 400 to 500 people as I had mentioned in my earlier statement,” he told the CID.
Sonawane’s subordinate, Kasa police station in charge Assistant Inspector Anandrao Kale, has said in his statements – a part of the main chargesheet – that on the night of the lynching, he did not use the considerable fire power at his disposal because he was scared the mob would kill him and other policemen present on the scene if they used force to disperse them.