“I saw Vijay Palande briefly, when he lifted the veil that covered his face to point to the spot where he had thrown the head of the man [Karan Kakkad],” said Dilip Ramchandra Salunke, the 39-year-old farmer from Ghatmatha village, on the foothills of Kumbharli Ghat near Chiplun, around 300 km from Mumbai. “I was intimidated by the way he looked. He was expressionless, but his eyes were cold and menacing. I barely spoke to him.
A farmer who knows the topography of the Ghat, Salunke has been helping the police retrieve vehicles that plunge into the ravines and the remains of accident victims. He gets baksheesh [tip] for his efforts.
“Whenever there is any incident at the Ghat, he is the person we turn to,” said Prabhakar Pawar, head constable attached to Alore-Shirgaon police station. With directions from Palande and his associate Dhananjaya Shinde, who are said to have chopped Kakkad’s body to pieces and dumped them in plastic bags in the Ghat, Salunke helped the Mumbai crime branch locate the victim’s head and torso.
The police visited the area with Palande almost two weeks ago. “On the first day, we found nothing. The next day, Palande figured out the bushes where he had thrown Kakkad’s head in a black polythene bag,” Salunke said.
On Wednesday, the police took Shinde to Kumbharli Ghat to locate the torso, which was found 100 metres away from the spot where the head was dumped. “Shinde looked like any ordinary person. No one would think he could kill someone,” said Salunke, a school dropout who grows paddy in his fields. His wife teaches at the local aanganwadi, while one of his three children studies in Pune.
“I could choose not to be part of it. But I know the Ghat well, and it would be unfair not to help the police,” said Salunke.