Special court in Pune frames charges in Dabholkar murder

Five accused will finally face trial after eight years in the case which shook Maharashtra

Eight years after he was shot by motorcycle-borne assailants while out for a morning stroll in Pune, a special court on September 15 finally framed charges against five of the accused in the murder of eminent rationalist Dr. Narendra Dabholkar.

The framing of the charges paves the way for the long-delayed trial in the case which shook Maharashtra.

The accused include ENT specialist Dr. Virendrasinh Tawde, a member of the fringe Sanatan Sanstha, who has been referred by probe agencies as the “mastermind”; Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar, who have been named by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as the shooters; Sanatan Sanstha lawyer Sanjeev Punalekar; and another Sanstha member Vikram Bhave.

All accused replied in the negative when Additional Sessions Judge S.R. Navandar asked each of the five as to whether they pleaded guilty or not guilty to the charges.

While four among the accused are to be tried for murder, criminal conspiracy, and terrorism under Section 16 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and various provisions of the Arms Act, advocate Punalekar, who is currently out on bail, will be tried for destruction of evidence.

While Tawde appeared for the hearing via video conference from Yerwada Jail, Andure appeared from Aurangabad jail and Kalaskar from Mumbai’s Arthur Road prison. Both Punalekar and Bhave were physically present in the Pune court on September 15.

The court directed Andure and Kalaskar to be shifted to Yerwada prison before the trial commences.

Commenting on the development, Dr. Hamid Dabholkar, son of the slain rationalist said that even though the framing of the charges had come at a very late date, it constituted an important step in the case.

“For many years since the crime, we worried whether the criminals would ever be found and whether they would be brought to trial. The other point is that masterminds still have not been found. So, with the CBI probe being conducted under the supervision of the Bombay High Court, we are hoping that those who plotted the murders of Dr. Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, scholar M.M. Kalburgi and journalist Gauri Lankesh will eventually be brought to justice,” said Hamid Dabholkar.

Dabholkar was shot dead with a 7.65 mm calibre country-made pistol while out for his morning stroll on Pune’s Omkareshwar Bridge on August 20, 2013.

The CBI first arrested Tawde in 2016 and the chargesheet against him was filed in September 2016.

Sharad Kalaskar and Sachin Andure were arrested in August 2018 and the supplementary chargesheet against the duo was filed in February 2019. Lawyer Sanjeev Punalekar and Vikram Bhave were arrested in May 2019 in connection with the murder and were chargesheeted in November that year. However, both were later granted bail.

Since Dabholkar’s killing, senior Communist leader Govind Pansare and his wife Uma were similarly shot at close range from two 7.65-mm country-made weapons in Kolhapur in February 2015, which led to Pansare’s death.

The same modus operandi was used in the murder of scholar-rationalist M.M. Kalburgi, who was chillingly murdered by two unidentified assailants outside his home in Dharwad in Kanataka, as well as senior journalist Gauri Lankesh, who was shot to death outside her Bengaluru residence in September 2017.

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