The Supreme Court on Friday asked the CBI whether there was any “common thread” in the murders of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, CPI leader Govind Pansare, activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh and scholar M M Kalburgi.
Dabholkar, who fought against superstition, was shot dead by two motorcycle-borne assailants during his morning walk in Pune on August 20, 2013. Pansare was murdered on February 20, 2015, while Lankesh was killed on September 5, 2017. Kalburgi was shot dead on August 30, 2015.
A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Sudhanshu Dhulia posed this query to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) while hearing a plea by Mukta Dabholkar, daughter of Narendra Dabholkar, challenging the April 18 this year order of the Bombay High Court refusing to continue monitoring the investigation in the killing of her father.
Senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing for Mukta Dabholkar, told the bench there was a larger conspiracy behind the four killings.
He said the available evidence indicated that these cases may be connected and Mukta Dabholkar had raised this issue before the high court.
“The accused who are facing a trial (in Dabholkar case), according to you, there is no common thread in those four murders? Right? That is what you are saying?” Justice Dhulia asked Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati, who was appearing for the CBI.
“That is what we want to know,” Justice Kaul said, and asked the CBI to “Please look into it”.
As soon as Grover began arguing about the issues involved in the matter, the bench told him the high court has said the trial in the Dabholkar murder case is going on and some witnesses have already been examined.
” so therefore we (high court) don’t want to monitor it any further. What is wrong with such an observation?” the bench asked him.
Grover said though the trial is going on, two of the accused are absconding and have not been arrested yet.
Giving the status of the Dabholkar murder case, Bhati told the bench that 20 witnesses have so far been examined during the trial.
The bench told Bhati the petitioner has also alleged a larger spread of the conspiracy.
The bench noted the petitioner’s counsel has submitted that they need two weeks to place some documents along with translation of the relevant portions which will help the ASG in examining the issue of the larger conspiracy involved in these killings.
“ASG is granted four weeks thereafter to examine the aforesaid issue,” the bench said and ordered the listing of the matter after eight weeks.
Grover had told the apex court on May 18 that the CBI suspected there could be a common link in the killings of Dabholkar, Pansare and Lankesh.
“The investigation has found that weapons used in these subsequent incidents (the killing of Pansare and Lankesh) and Dabholkar murder were the same and people involved in the crimes were also the same. Hence, CBI wanted to do further investigation,” he had said.
The high court had said on April 18, after nine years of monitoring the Narendra Dabholkar case investigation, that no further watch on the probe was required. It had disposed of several petitons including the one filed by Mukta Dabholkar for continued monitoring.
In 2014, the high court had transferred the probe to the CBI from Pune police following a petition by Mukta Dabholkar and another activist.
A special Pune court had in 2021 framed charges against the alleged mastermind of the crime, Virendra Sinh Tawde. It had charged Tawde and three others with murder and criminal conspiracy, and with terror related offences under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Another accused Sanjeev Punalekar was charged with destruction of evidence.