Updated: September 8, 2021 6:21:28 am
A special court in Pune on Tuesday passed an order to frame charges against the five accused in the 2013 murder case of anti-superstition activist Dr Narendra Dabholkar. All five accused are linked to the radical outfit Sanatan Sanstha. The actual process of framing of charges — which will mark the beginning of the trial —has been deferred till September 15.
The Special Court of Additional Sessions Judge S R Navandar, designated for cases under the anti-terror legislation Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), is currently holding proceedings of the case.
During the hearing on Tuesday, the court said that considering the evidence presented and arguments made till now, it has decided to frame charges against four of the accused for murder, conspiracy to commit murder and committing a terrorist act. The fifth accused will be charged for destruction of evidence, the court said.
The court said it will be framing charges against four of the accused — Dr Virendrasingh Tawade, Sachin Andure, Sharad Kalaskar and Vikram Bhave —for murder, conspiracy to commit murder and under Section 16 of the UAPA pertaining to terrorist acts, and various provisions of the Arms Act for the use of a firearm. The court said that it will charge the fifth accused, advocate Sanjeev Punalekar, for destruction of evidence.
Dr Dabholkar, a rationalist and founder of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, was shot dead by two assailants while he was on a morning walk on the V R Shinde Bridge in Pune on August 20, 2013. He was 67.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which took over the case from Pune City police in 2014, has till now chargesheeted five accused in the case.
The stage of framing charges — when the court will ask each of the accused whether they plead guilty or not guilty — has been deferred till September 15.
While Bhave was present in the court on Tuesday, Punalekar, who is out on bail, and Tawade and Andure, who are in prison, attended via video-conferencing. Contact with Kalaskar, who is lodged in Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail, could not be made due to technical glitches.
Defence Lawyer Virendra Ichalkaranjikar also attended the proceedings via video-conferencing.
During Tuesday’s hearing, the court had, in fact, started asking each of the accused whether they plead guilty or not guilty. But Tawade said that he had not been able to meet his family members and lawyer due to Covid-related restrictions and needed time.
The court granted one week’s time to all the accused but said it would be unable to give any more time for framing of charges.
Special Public Prosecutor Prakash Suryavanshi said, “All the charges proposed by us have been taken up by the court. I will communicate the court’s ruling to the CBI.”
In June 2016, the CBI had first arrested Sanatan Sanstha member and ENT surgeon Dr Virendrasinh Tawade in connection with the case. The chargesheet against him was filed in September 2016, and the CBI termed him the ‘mastermind of the conspiracy’ to kill Dr Dabholkar.
In August 2018, the CBI arrested two more Sanatan Sanstha members, Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar. The supplementary chargesheet against the two was filed in February 2019 and the two were named by the CBI as the two persons who had shot Dr Dabholkar dead. In May 2019, the CBI arrested Mumbai-based lawyer Sanjeev Punalekar and his aide Vikram Bhave, both linked to Sanatan Sanstha. The chargesheet against them was filed in November 2019.
The CBI has said that Punalekar played a role in destruction of evidence in the case, while Bhave conducted reconnaissance of the murder site and later helped in destruction of evidence. While Tawade, Andure and Kalaskar are in judicial custody, Punalekar and Bhave are out on bail.
The defence in its arguments has always cited the contradiction in the investigative agency’s claims about the assailants. It has pointed out that the CBI, in its 2016 chargesheet against Tawade, had named absconding Sanatan Sanstha members Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar as the two assailants who shot Dabholkar dead.
But in August 2018, CBI arrested Andure and Kalaskar and named them as shooters. The CBI had also arrested three others — Amol Kale, Amit Digwekar and Rajesh Bangera – in the Dabholkar murder case, but they have not been chargesheeted yet. The three, along with Kalaskar, have been named as accused in the 2017 murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru.
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