A magistrate court in Pune has allowed an application filed by the government to withdraw a case against senior Shiv Sena leader Neelam Gorhe and Sena president Uddhav Thackeray’s personal assistant Milind Narvekar, who were accused of orchestrating riots and triggering violence during a bandh in Pune in 2010. The government had earlier tried to withdraw the case in 2015, but the court had rejected its plea.
The case dates back to December 2010 when, during a purported phone conversation between Gorhe and Narvekar, the latter had allegedly given instructions to Gorhe to trigger violence during the Pune bandh scheduled to be held on December 28. Narvekar had allegedly told Gorhe to orchestrate incidents of stone pelting, burning of public transport buses and rioting, and alert TV crews to cover these incidents.
Pune Police had tapped the phones of the two Sena leaders, based on intelligence inputs suggesting that some political leaders would try to instigate violence during the Shiv Sena-backed Pune bandh, which was called to oppose the removal of a statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s mentor Dadoji Konddeo from the historic Lal Mahal by the Pune Municipal Corporation.
In 2010, the Congress-NCP alliance was in power, while Sena and BJP were in the opposition.
Narvekar had allegedly told Gorhe on the phone to gather at least 200 to 300 workers and set some public transport buses on fire at bus depots, and set some vehicles on fire on the highways between Pune and Mumbai. The next day, at least 30 buses were damaged and burnt during the bandh, and several workers of Shiv Sena and other political parties were arrested. Gorhe and Narvekar were later booked by Pune Police under sections 153 (promoting enmity between different groups and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) and 120 (b) (hatching criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.
Over the years, several attempts by the prosecution to collect voice samples of the duo had yielded no results as the Sena leaders had refused to give their samples to police, claiming it was a “violation of personal liberty”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Advocate A K Pacharne, the prosecutor in the case, said, “The court has allowed the application, granting permission to withdraw the case… both Gorhe and Narvekar stand discharged. The application in this regard was submitted through District Government Pleader Ujjwala Pawar.”
In spite of repeated attempts, Pawar did not answer calls from The Indian Express.
In July this year, a committee comprising a group of ministers from the BJP-led state government, in which the Sena is an alliance partner, decided to withdraw eight cases pending in Pune, Mumbai, Kolhapur, and Nagpur. Pawar was asked to initiate the process, in accordance with the government resolution, to withdraw cases arising out of social and political agitations.
In her application, she submitted that total damages in the 2010 riots were for an amount less than Rs 5 lakh, and the “telephonic conversation was recorded in a CD, which is secondary evidence”.
“The GR states that cases with damages worth Rs 5 lakh or less can be withdrawn. As per Section 321 of the Criminal Procedure Code, it is not for the court (at this stage) to decide whether evidence will lead to conviction or acquittal.” she said in her plea.
Judicial Magistrate First Class (JMFC) P T Gotey, while allowing the application, said, “The government has taken a policy decision for social harmony in the society. The case is related to social and political agitations. It is a fit case in which consent can be granted to withdraw from prosecution.”
Incidentally, in 2015, while rejecting the government’s plea to withdraw the case, the court of JMFC S R Nimse had stated, “The case is of criminal conspiracy for wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot. The letter issued by the assistant director of prosecution mentions that it is decided to withdraw cases against Ganesh Mandal volunteers. But this case is not against Ganesh Mandal volunteers…”.
After the application of withdrawal was rejected in 2015, the government, in a surprise move, had cancelled the appointment of then Special Public Prosecutor in the case Prakash Suryavanshi, without citing any reason. The decision had raised several eyebrows in the legal fraternity.