July 11, 2021 4:32:25 am
Despite the Karnataka Police proposing an appeal in the Supreme Court against a Karnataka High Court order dropping charges against a key accused in the 2017 killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh, the BJP government is yet to decide on moving an appeal in the court.
The case, filed under the stringent Karnataka Control of Organized Control Act (KCOCA), was quashed on April 22 with the High Court saying that the accused was not involved in “continuing unlawful activities” as defined under the Act.
The delay has compelled Lankesh’s sister Kavitha to file an SLP in the SC and notices were issued to the government on June 29.
Mohan Nayak (50) and the other accused in the case were linked to Hindutva outfit Sanatan Sanstha and its affiliate Hindu Janajagruti Samiti. The police argued that the key accused in the case are also charged in the killing of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, Leftist thinker Govind Pansare, Kannada scholar M M Kalburgi, besides attempting to kill writer K S Bhagawan and plotting of acts of terrorism in Maharashtra with arms and explosives. Multiple violent crime charges against four others arrested in the case were also cited.
A Special Investigation Team arrested and charged 17 people linked to extremist groups who allegedly created a syndicate to carry out killings and attacks on critics of Hindutva — primarily in Karnataka and Maharashtra — between 2013 and 2018.
However, the High Court, in its order quashing approval for KCOCA against Nayak, said, “There was no registration of any case or filing of any chargesheet or taking of any cognisance even in individual capacity of the petitioner, much less as member of the organised crime syndicate or the commission of crime for and on behalf of the crime syndicate.” It rejected the plea that the KCOCA is applicable to all persons accused in an organized crime if one person arrested in the case has more than one chargesheet for violent crimes against them in the preceding 10 years.
Since the HC order, as many as five other accused in the Gauri Lankesh case have moved court seeking withdrawal of the KCOCA charges against them while Nayak has sought bail.
Police believe the order is detrimental to not just the Gauri Lankesh case but nearly 17 other KCOCA cases in the state — against gangsters such as Bannanje Raja.
“The HC order will create a big hole in the KCOCA law and render it virtually defunct,” said a senior police officer in Bengaluru. “When Bannanje Raja was deported and brought to India he did not have any prior chargesheets against him but many of his associates had chargesheets and this allowed the use of KCOCA against Raja,” said another officer.
The state police department has sent a proposal from the police headquarters to the Karnataka home department for filing of a plea in the Supreme Court against the dropping of the KCOCA charges in the Mohan Nayak case.
“A decision was taken at the highest level in the police department to go on appeal, soon after the HC order on KCOCA was available in the Gauri Lankesh case. The recommendation for an appeal was sent to the state home department but there has been no response. It seems the file is awaiting the legal opinion of the advocate general,” a Bengaluru police officer said. “It is a decision of the government not to go on appeal,” said a senior Bengaluru police officer.
However, an official in the Karnataka home department said that the issue is still under legal consideration. “A meeting of an expert committee was held on the police proposal. The expert committee decided to seek legal opinion from the advocate general since it is a sensitive issue. There is no response yet from the office of the advocate general,” said an official in the department.
According to the Special Public Prosecutor in the Gauri Lankesh case in the Karnataka High Court, H S Chandramouli, an appeal against the HC order “is still in process”.
Karnataka minister for home and law, Basavaraj Bommai, said an appeal is under consideration. “These are all decisions that have to be considered and taken and the concerned parties are in touch with us. We are deliberating on it,” Bommai said when contacted.
With no decision, Kavitha Lankesh, a filmmaker and original complainant in the case, moved the Supreme Court at the end of June against the High Court decision.
In an interim order on June 29, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court said the bail application filed by Nayak must be “decided without being influenced by the impugned order”.
When contacted Kavitha Lankesh said she decided to move the SC since she felt “she could not wait for the government to decide”. “It is not a personal murder or anything; my sister’s murder was a political murder. It is not just her, there were three more people who were victims and so there are three more families who have been affected… lifting of KCOCA will affect not just this case but also so many other cases.”
The SIT had filed a chargesheet against the accused in the Lankesh murder case on November 23, 2018.
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