The police commissioners of Mumbai and Pune have two weeks to trace an absconding convict facing life imprisonment for murdering trade union leader Datta Samant in 1997.
If the convict, Vijay Thopte, who jumped parole in February 2005, is not traced within two weeks, the deputy commissioner of police (detection-I), Mumbai, and additional commissioner of police (crime), Pune, will have to remain present in the Bombay High Court.
A division bench of Justice B.H. Marlapalle and Justice Mridula Bhatkar passed this direction while hearing an appeal filed by Thopte and another convict, Ganpat Bamne, challenging the sentence awarded to them by the trial court in 2000.
On July 25, 2000, the sessions court convicted Thopte, Bamne and Arun Londhe to life sentence for killing Samant on January 16, 1997 at Powai. Londhe died in jail.
Following a high court order in November 2009, the Mumbai and Pune police commissioners formed two special investigation teams (SITs) to track down Thopte. The teams were headed by DCP (Detection–I) in Mumbai and by the additional commissioner of police in Pune.
On Monday, Bamne’s counsel, Sayaji Nangre, requested the court to separate his appeal from that of Thopte. “Bamne has been in prison since his arrest on February 20, 1997. He has spent more than 13 years behind the bars,” said Nangre.
If Thopte is not found, Bamne will have to languish in jail without his appeal being heard, added Nangre.
Additional Public Prosecutor Pradeep Hingorani told the court that the SITs have tried their best, but have not been able to find Thopte.
Considering that the sessions court had examined 73 witnesses and there was bulk of documents to be examined, Justice Marlapalle said: “It does not seem advisable to separate Thopte and Bamne’s appeals.”