Dabholkar-Pansare Murder: Do not create the impression that CBI has lost interest in the case, Bombay Hight Court tells CBI

Killed Social Activists Narendra Dabholkar, Gauri Lankesh and Govind Pansare and Pansare

The Bombay High Court on Tuesday told the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probing the murder of rationalist Narednra Dabholkar that an impression should not go to public that the central agency had lost interest in the case.

It also questioned the CBI as well as the Special Investigation Team investigating the murder of CPI member Govind Pansare that whether they were wholly relying on evidence against accused in the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh and whether no one else was involved.

The bench of Justice SC Dharmadhikari and Justice BH Dangre asked both investigating teams to respond to these questions on the next date of hearing. What makes these questions significant is that the Supreme Court recently asked the CBI whether the killings of Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh were linked. In case they are found to be linked, the apex court may transfer all the investigations to one central agency.

The court expressed its disapproval of the language and phraseology of the report filed on Friday by the CBI. In the report, Joint Director and Head of the Special Task Zone, New Delhi stated: “The investigations are in progress. After collecting sufficient prosecutable evidence, appropriate action will be initiated against the accused.”

To highlight the contrast in its earlier directions and the CBI’s report, the court referred to its order on November 22 and said:

We had clearly referred to the aspect of approval or sanction from the Headquarter so that further steps are taken against these persons. Their names are already set out in the earlier report of the CBI which was taken on record on 22nd November, 2018. Hence, we fail to understand as to what investigations are required to be carried out by those sitting in the Headquarter so as to approve or sanction the course of action as suggested by the Investigating Officer. All that was required was a go-ahead or a formal approval to the Investigating Officer so that he proceeds on the lines indicated by him to his superiors and thereafter submit to them further reports. Now we have our own doubts which we expressed in open court as to whether there is any dilution or toning down of the matters, in the sense, if there is any doubt about the involvement of these persons.”

Appearing for the CBI, Additional Solicitor General Anil Singh told the court that no such impression was intended to be given. In fact, a collection of sufficient prosecutable evidence is being done so that there are no technical lacunae in the future which lands the prosecution’s case in trouble.

Then, Abhay Nevagi, lawyer for the petitioners (families of Pansare and Dabholkar), informed the court that recently a Pune court had granted bail to some accused in the case as CBI could not adhere to the time limit, even the CBI prosecutor was absent that day. The Pune court granted bail to Amil Kale, Rajesh Bangera and Amit Digvekar.

Senior Advocate and Special PP AP Mundargi appeared on behalf of the State and submitted that the SIT had obtained custody of the accused in the Gauri Lankesh murder case and probed them about their role in the murder of comrade Pansare. He also added that prosecution would take efforts to make sure that the charge sheet is filed within the statutory limit of 90 days.

Interestingly, the CBI had told the trial court in Pune that the killings of Narendra Dabholkar and Gauri Lankesh were linked. Directing the CBI to remove all inconsistencies in their reporting to the court, the bench observed:

“Finally, both cases, prima facie, expose the investigation team as they are wholly relying on the materials collected against the arrested accused in the murder of Gauri Lankesh. Just because of similarity in the pattern of the act, the impression of the CBI and SIT is that the accused are common and none others are involved in the murders in this State. Let both explain this aspect as well on the next occasion.”

You can read the court order here.

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