Dabholkar murder case: Norwegian divers recover pistol from seabed
In a significant breakthrough in the murder of rationalist and social activist Narendra Dabholkar, who was shot dead by unidentified men in Pune in August 2013, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has recovered a pistol that may have been used in the killing from the Arabian Sea with the help of Norwegian deep-sea explorers and technology, two senior officers aware of the development said.
The weapon has been sent for a forensic examination to establish if it was indeed used in the murder of Dabholkar. The agency, in August 2019, informed a Pune court that it needed to scour the sea at Kharegaon Creek near Thane to look for the weapon.
Seven people, including Virendra Tade, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon, advocate Sanjeev Punalekar, Vikram Bhave, Sharad Kalaskar and Sachin Andure, were named by CBI as the key accused in the murder of Dabholkar, who was shot dead while on a morning walk.
“We have found a pistol after days of exploration. The ballistics experts will now examine it with the bullet size/type mentioned in the post mortem report of Dabholkar,” one of the two senior officers cited above said on condition of anonymity.
Dubai-based Envitech Marine Consultants, engaged by CBI for the exploration, transported its machinery from Norway for finding the weapon. The experts used a magnetic sledge to explore the area near Kharegaon Creek as part of an exploration survey called ‘Topographical and Level Survey’, in which the silt top and silt depth levels were checked, said the officer.
As part of the survey, several methods — known as Electronic Distance Measuring, Angle Measurement, and Level Measurement — were used, he added.
The central agency arranged the whole operation, starting from getting permission from the state government to securing environment clearances. It even got customs duty worth around ~95 lakh waived for bringing the machinery from Norway.
The cost of exploration operation is estimated at Rs 7.5 crore. CBI is committed to taking the case to its logical conclusion, the officer said.
CBI and the Karnataka and Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squads (ATS) are likely to jointly bear the cost of exploration as three murder cases in the two states — Dabholkar in Pune, and Gauri Lankesh and MM Kalburgi in Karnataka — are linked.
“I must, at this point, say that I cannot comment on portion of investigation that has not been presented in the court. But if indeed such a development has occurred, I hope by April or in the next 10 days, they should start the trial. I personally do not know when the divers came and the process happened. Interestingly enough, the search has been going on for a year. It is not an ocean, just a creek. I fail to understand why it took so long. Only after Dharmadhikari resigned, a statement was made by the investigation authority that we will complete the investigation by March-end,” said advocate Virendra Ichalkaranjikar, a defence lawyer in the Dabholkar case.
Bombay high court justice Satyaranjan Dharmadhikari, who had been hearing the Dabholkar case, had tendered his resignation last month citing personal reasons. Justice Dharmadhikari had issued multiple orders in the case pulling up CBI for the slow pace of investigation.
Dabholkar was shot dead by two bike-borne assailants on August 20, 2013, on the Omkareshwar bridge in Pune around 7.30am. In 2014, the investigation was handed over to CBI.
The first charge sheet in the matter was filed on September 6, 2016, naming Virendra Tawade as the main conspirator and Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar as the shooters. A supplementary charge sheet in the case was filed on February 13, 2019, naming Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar as the two shooters. Another charge sheet was filed on November 20, 2019, against advocate Sanjiv Punalekar and his aide Vikram Bhave, naming them as co-conspirators in the murder. Of the seven people named in the case, Tawade, Kalaskar, Andure and Bhave are in jail. Akolkar and Pawar are yet to be arrested. Advocate Punalekar and Bhave were arrested on May 25, 2019. Punalekar was granted bail on July 5, 2019.
Kalaskar and Andure are being investigated by the CBI in the Dabholkar murder case as well as the Karnataka special investigation team probing the Gauri Lankesh murder.