The special court criticised the investigating agencies for lapses in obtaining sanction orders for the prosecution of the accused under UAPA, leading to their failure to prove Dabholkar’s killing as an act of terror.

Vinay Bhave, lawyer Sanjeev Punalekar and Virendrasinh Sharadchandra Tawade. Photo: via Canva

By Sukanya Shantha

Mumbai: A special CBI court in Pune sentenced two men to life for gunning down rationalist and social worker Narendra Dabholkar 11 years ago. The gunmen – Sachin Prakashrao Andure and Sharad Bhausaheb Kalaskar – were convicted under section 302 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code for murder and common intention. The motive, however, was not proved. 

In the absence of a motive, the three other accused – alleged mastermind Dr Virendrasinh Sharadchandra Tawade, lawyer Sanjeev Punalekar and his assistant Vinay Bhave – were acquitted. In a detailed 171-page judgment, the special CBI judge Prabhakar P. Jadhav, while acquitting the trio, categorically mentions that the acquittal was not because they didn’t play a role but because the investigating agency – first, the Maharashtra police and then the CBI, failed to do their job. The court passed the verdict on May 10 and the judgment copy was made available a day later, on May 11. 

The special court criticised the investigating agency and the state authorities for procedural lapses in obtaining appropriate sanction orders for prosecution of the accused under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. In the absence of these sanctions, the prosecution failed to prove that Dabholkar’s killing was an act of terror, a crucial aspect not just in this case but also in the killings of other rationalists and activists that followed.

Failure to prove motive

The prosecution had examined 20 witnesses in the case, including, two eye witnesses and two close associates of the Sanathan Sanstha, a far-right organisation implicated in many terror-related activities. The organisation is, however, yet to be declared a terror outfit by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Among those who deposed in the case were Dabholkar’s son Hamid, a psychologist who studied the mental state of the accused and activists from Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti, an organisation founded by Dabholkar.

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