By Johnson T A
FOUR YEARS after Bengaluru-based journalist Gauri Lankesh was gunned down allegedly by members of a radical Hindutva group, the trial of the 17 accused is yet to begin even as investigators continue to probe the logistics supply network involved in the 2017 murder.
Over the past few weeks, new chargesheets have been filed over procurement of SIM cards by the accused using fake identities and support networks for use in covert operations that led to the murder of 55-year-old Lankesh.
Last month, a chargesheet was filed in Manipal against the main accused, Amol Kale, for illegal procurement of SIM cards that were used for communications in the planning and execution of the murder. Police from the Kushalnagar area also quizzed two key accused, Mohan Nayak and Sujeet Kumar, over SIM cards.
The probe has found that a former BSNL official in Kushalnagar had allegedly provided a number of SIM cards to members of radical group Sanathan Sanstha for use without following procedures. The BSNL official has been charged by the police and the matter has been settled through the payment of a minor fine through a Lok Adalat court.
On several occasions earlier, the Sanstha had denied any links to the accused or the case.
In the case that was chargesheeted in Manipal, it was found that Kale had allegedly used the identity of Vinod alias Samir, a farm labourer from the Bylakuppe region near Kushalnagar, to obtain the SIM cards. Sources said dozens of cases were being dealt with by police in different parts of the state over such procurement.
According to the chargesheets, SIT investigations in the Lankesh murder found that the secretive Hindutva outfit used a separate mobile phone to communicate with every person involved. Following the arrest of Kale, 37, and recruiter Kumar, 38, in 2018, the SIT found a stash of 20 mobile phones in a bag carried by Kale and 22 mobile phones stashed in shelves in the kitchen of a house in Udupi where Kumar had been living.
“Maintaining secrecy is a prime focus for our group. When we recruit any youth for our activities we never give him our mobile numbers. We speak to them only through public phone booths initially. Once we are sure that a youth is suited to be a part of our activities we provide them with a mobile phone to be used for exclusive communication with us and designate a code name for the youth for the communications,” Kumar is quoted as saying in a statement placed in court.
The main chargesheet in the case was filed on November 23, 2018 by the SIT. But the trial is yet to begin due to a number of reasons: delays caused by several applications filed by the accused, the accused being in different jails around the country, and the Covid situation.
The accused have filed a barrage of applications for bail, discharge, and aspects like the invoking of the stringent Karnataka Control of Organized Crime Act, 2000, resulting in delays despite the High Court directing two years ago for the trial to be expedited.
“On perusal of the entire ordersheet, it would go to show that the matter came to be adjourned from time to time, due to intervening applications filed by one or the other accused. The hearing of earlier bail application and discharge application also has consumed sufficient time,” the principal sessions court in Bengaluru, where the chargesheet has been filed, said.
“Thereafter, in the year 2020, due to pandemic Covid-19, the functioning of the court was stalled. The accused are split and placed in different jails and they are represented by separate counsel,” the court said while rejecting a bail plea filed by the accused on grounds of delay.
On August 9, the sessions court asked advocates for two accused to present their arguments in a fresh bail plea but the counsel cited a pending case in the Supreme Court to seek time. On August 17, an adjournment was sought again by the accused citing the pending case, but the court observed that the case was unconnected to grounds on which bail is sought.
On August 21, when the matter came up, the bail application was rejected after more time was sought. “No grounds to grant further time. There is no progress in the case on account of one or the other application being filed in this case,” the court said.
On August 27, the principal sessions court posted the matter for “framing of charge or plea”.
Lankesh, an outspoken critic of radical Hindutva, was shot dead outside her home in west Bengaluru on the night of September 5, 2017, by two motorcycle-borne assassins.
This story first appeared on indianexpress.com