In a setback to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), a court in Pune on Tuesday rejected its plea to extend the custody of lawyer Sanjeev Punalekar and his aide Vikram Bhave, who were arrested recently in connection with the Narendra Dabholkar murder case.
Punalekar (53) and Bhave (34), who were produced before the court on Tuesday after their second custodial remand ended, were instead remanded to judicial custody for 14 days. Additional Sessions Judge Ravindra M Pande observed that sufficient custody had already been granted to the CBI on similar grounds earlier and thus the grounds to extend it further were not satisfactory.
The duo had been arrested by the agency on May 25 for allegedly being part of the conspiracy to kill Dabholkar, and helping the killers conduct a reconnaissance of the murder site and procure the getaway vehicle.
During the hearing, Special Public Prosecutor Prakash Suryavanshi sought 14-day extension in CBI custody of the duo and argued before the court, “The recovery of the data from the cell phone and two laptops seized from Punalekar is over and now we want to confront him with the information from these devices. We have also conducted forensic psychological assessment of Punalekar and the reports suggest that his responses have been false and deceptive.”
Seeking extension of Bhave’s custody, the prosecutor argued that the CBI was yet to recover the motorcycle that was used by Sharad Kalaskar and Sachin Andure, the alleged shooters of Dabholkar, and Bhave had helped them dispose of it.
Virendra Ichalkaranjikar and Sameer Patwardhan, who represented Punalekar and Bhave respectively,argued that the CBI counsel’s arguments for the custodial remand were identical to those made earlier and this showed that no progress had been made in the probe.
In his order, Judge Ravindra M Pande said, “I have also gone through the earlier remand reports. On the same grounds, initially police custody (PC) is granted and thereafter extended… as such, it is clear that for the grounds mentioned in the remand report filed today, sufficient PC is already granted. The ground for the further PC does not appear to be satisfactory.”
Punalekar, an office-bearer of the Hindu Vidhidnya Parishad, a lawyers’ body, has represented several Sanatan Sanstha members and other Hindutva activists accused in many other cases. He had not only appeared for some of the accused in Dabholkar murder case but was also quoted in the media. Bhave, a Sanatan Sanstha member, was convicted in a 2008 blasts case on the premises of some theatres and auditorium in Thane. He was released on bail by the Bombay High Court in 2013. He had been assisting Punalekar in his legal work, said sources.
Dabholkar, a leading rationalist, was shot dead by two assailants on August 20, 2013, while he was on his morning walk in Pune.