Vikram Sapte, an alleged henchman of Chhota Rajan who the police claimed was involved in the killing of trade union leader Datta Samant, has been acquitted.
On Friday, the sessions court ruled that it had little evidence against Sapte to convict him because four of the witnesses examined in the case had failed to identify him.
On January 16, 1997, four alleged Rajan shooters had pumped 18 bullets into Samant, leader of the Kamgar Aghadi, as he was leaving his residence on Padmavati Road at Powai in his Tata Sumo.
Even Bhimrao Sonkambli, Samant’s driver who was injured in the attack, could not identify Sapte in court.
“Sonkambli stuck to his statement that he could not see the assailants because he too was shot,” said Sunil Pasbola, Sapte’s lawyer.
In 1997, the police had arrested three of the shooters, Arun Londhe, Vijay Thopte and Ganpat Bamne, who were convicted to life imprisonment in 2000. Interrogation led the police to claim that Sapte was the fourth assailant in the case.
Sapte was arrested in 2005, and has since been behind bars.
The three accused had also helped the police unravel the inter-union rivalry at the PAL-Peugeot plant at Dombivli, as one of the primary motives behind Samant’s killing.
Ratan Patil, chairman of the trade union, had split from Samant and formed his own Sakharam Seth Union after Pal- Peugeot declared a lock-out.
When the lock-out period prolonged, the workers started pressurising Patil to settle the matter, but Samant did not agree for the settlement.
Patil, with his new union, joined duty with all workers. The police claim this led to bad blood between Samant and Patil.
Patil’s union also got support from another faction headed by one Ashok Satardekar.
Satardekar and Ramesh Patil, Ratan’s son, reportedly started receiving death threats from gangster Suresh Manchekar.
Satardekar allegedly approached Rajan aide Bharat Nepali, who directed them seek Rajan’s help to kill Samant.
In 1997, a chargesheet was filed against seven accused, including Satardekar and Patil. But both were acquitted for lack of evidence.
Samant’s murder marked a turning point in city’s trade union sector. It coincided with the time when the industry started shifting from manufacturing to service sector, and factories started closing down.
With no strong leader in the fray, the unions lost their voice.
Little wonder, dozens of factories closed down and the land sold off to developers to construct commercial complexes.