A special court for the Karnataka Control of Organised Crime Act (KCOCA) has set October 30 as the date for framing charges against 17 out of the 18 accused in the case. Journalist Gauri Lankesh was gunned down outside her home in Rajarajeshwari Nagar in Bangalore on September 5, 2017. With a date set for framing charges, the hurdles towards commencing the trial appear to have been finally removed.
The KCOCA Court is all set to frame charges after the Supreme Court restored charges under KCOCA for accused Mohan Nayak. Earlier the Karnataka High Court had dropped these charges, but last week the SC observed that the HC had “glossed over core and tangible facts”. This was after Gauri’s sister and filmmaker Kavitha Lankesh had filed a Special Leave Petition (SLP) before the SC with the help of Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), challenging the HC order.
Key accused in the case
The said incident came under the jurisdiction of Rajarajeshwari Nagar police station of Bangalore City and on the same day an FIR was registered under Sections 302, 120(B), 114, 118, 109, 201, 203, 204, 35 of I.P.C. and Sections 25(1), 25(1B), 27(1) of the Indian Arms Act, 1959 and Sessions 3(1)(i), 3(2), 3(3) and 3(4) of the COCA Act, 2000 (Order No.C.R.M./01/158/BC/2017-18 dated 06-09-2017 of the D.G. and I.G.P.) as Crime No. 221/2017. Gauri Lankesh’s sister, Kavitha Lankesh is the first informant in the case.
The Karnataka Special Investigation Team (SIT) began probing the case. According to the Karnataka SIT, the plot to kill Lankesh was hatched a year before the assassination. Two chargesheets were filed in the case. The primary chargesheet was filed against KT Naveen Kumar, a 37-year-old member of the Hindu Yuva Sena on May 30, 2018. On November 23, 2018 the supplementary chargesheet running into 9,235 pages was filed. 18 people have reportedly been named in the chargesheet. These include shooter Parashuram Waghmare, masterminds Amol Kale, Sujith Kumar alias Praveen and Amit Digwekar.
This second chargesheet was significant, not only because it named the Sanatan Sanstha for the first time, but also because it revealed that 26 other rationalists, eminent journalists, educationists and intellectuals who are perceived to be anti-Hindu by the Sanatan Sanstha, were on a hitlist of sorts. These include Siddharth Varadrajan (Editor, The Wire), journalist Antara Dev Sen, JNU professor Chaman Lal, Punjabi playwright Atamjit Singh among others.
Three of the accused in the Gauri Lankesh murder case are also linked to the plot to kill anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar. Dabholkar was shot dead on August 20, 2013. The same weapon was used in both crimes according to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Sachin Andure, one of the alleged shooters of Dabholkar, was arrested by the CBI and has been remanded to judicial custody. Meanwhile, his co-accused Rajesh Bangera and Amit Digvekar have also been remanded to judicial custody. Bangera had allegedly provided weapons training to Andure and Sharad Kalaskar, the two men who allegedly shot Narendra Dabholkar. Meanwhile Digvekar had helped recon Dabholkar’s house and keep tabs on his movement and routine. Digvekar was also a ‘saadhak’ in the Sanatan Sanstha.
Kavitha Lankesh’s SLP
Lankesh’s SLP before the SC detailed the nature and extent of Nayak’s involvement saying that investigations had found that Nayak had been “actively involved in providing shelter to the killers prior to and after committing the offence and has participated in a series of conspiracies, abetting, planning, providing logistics.” This fulfils the condition of being involved in “continuous unlawful activity” which is vital for being charged under relevant sections of the KCOCA.
The SLP further stated that the police have collected sufficient evidence “to connect him with the case and establish his intimate nexus with the master mind behind the entire event i.e. Accused No.1 Amol Kale and master arms trainer Accused No. 8 Rajesh D. Bangera who are part and parcel of an “organized crime syndicate” from its inception.”
The court saw merit in the Police Commissioner’s decision to grant permission to register a case under KCOCA and said that at the time the permission was sought, “the Commissioner of Police had focussed only on the factum of information regarding the commission of organized crime by an organized crime syndicate and on being prima facie satisfied about the presence of material on record in that regard, rightly proceeded to accord prior approval for invoking Section 3 of the 2000 Act. The prior approval was not for registering crime against individual offenders as such, but for recording of information regarding commission of an offence of organized crime under the 2000 Act. Therefore, the specific role of the concerned accused is not required to be and is not so mentioned in the stated prior approval. That aspect would be unravelled during the investigation, after registration of offence of organized crime.”
The court therefore observed, “The High Court, thus, examined the matter by applying erroneous scale. The observations made by the High Court in the impugned judgment clearly reveal that it has glossed over the core and tangible facts.” Expressing further disapproval with the HC’s reasoning in the impugned judgment, the SC said, “Notably, the High Court, without analysing the material presented along with chargesheet on the basis of which cognizance has been taken by the competent Court including against the writ petitionerMohan Nayak.N, concerning commission of organized crime by the organized crime syndicate of which he is allegedly a member, committed manifest error and exceeded its jurisdiction in quashing the chargesheet filed before the competent Court qua the writ petitioner Mohan Nayak. N regarding offences under Section 3(1)(i), 3(2), 3(3) and 3(4) of the 2000 Act.”
The court therefore ruled, that the appeals were allowed and, “The impugned judgment and order dated 22.04.2021 passed by the High Court is set aside and the writ petition filed by Mohan Nayak.N stands dismissed.”