A special court in Pune has formally charged four accused in 2013 killing of anti-superstition crusader Narendra Dabholkar for murder, conspiracy and terror-related offences under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The fifth accused, a practising lawyer, has been charged only with the destruction of evidence.
Special Judge SR Nawandar framed charges against ENT surgeon Dr Virendrasinh Tawade, the alleged assassins Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar, Sanjeev Punalekar, and his aide Vikram Bhave, after all of them pleaded "not guilty."
The four alleged right-wing extremists were charged with murder(302), criminal conspiracy(120B) under section 16 (committing terror acts) of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and under the Arms Act. Punalekar was charged with 201 of the IPC.
Tawade, Andure and Kalaskar were produced from prison via video conference. Punalekar, out on bail, was physically present.
Dabholkar, an anti-superstition crusader and activist, was shot dead by two bike-borne men on a morning walk in Pune on August 20, 2013.
The Bombay High Court has been monitoring the progress in the case ever since it ordered the transfer of probe to CBI in 2014.
After the CBI took over the probe in 2014 from Pune police, it arrested the five accused with alleged links to Sanatan Sanstha.
During arguments on framing of charge, CBI's counsel Prakash Suryavanshi relied on statements of five eyewitnesses, a businessman from Kolhapur who allegedly provided the country-made pistol to Tawade used in the murder; as well as Dabholkar's family members who have pointed fingers at Sananthan Sanstha.
"The definition of Section 15 of the UAPA is to strike terror in the mind of the society or section of people in the society. So our argument in the present case is that firearms were used to murder Dr. Dabholkar to strike terror among a section of people. Here the group of people are members of the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti [founded by Dabholkar], so Section 16 of UAPA is attracted in the case," he argued.
Suryavanshi had pointed out a sketch in Sanatan Sanstha's mouthpiece, 'Sanatan Prabhat', depicting Dabholkar's anti-superstition organisation being slain, two days before he was murdered.
Advocate Virendra Ichalkaranjikar opposed the framing of the charge. He urged the court to consider all three charge sheets filed by the CBI, including the first charge sheet in which absconding Sanatan members Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar were named assailants. Andhure and Kalaskar were arrested much later in 2018 and accused.
Ichalkaranjikar said that Akolkar and Pawar have now been cited as eyewitnesses.
He vehemently opposed the framing of charges under UAPA as well. He contended that earlier, the CBI had said the Tawde despised Dabholkar and his hate was the motive of the murder.
The case will now be heard on September 20.