Narendra Dabholkar murder: Pune court frames charges; all five accused plead not guilty

Dr Dabholkar, a rationalist and founder of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), was shot dead by two assailants while he was on a morning walk on the VR Shinde Bridge near Omkareshwar Temple in Pune, on the morning of August 20 in 2013.

IN an important development in Dr Narendra Dabholkar murder case of 2013, a Special Court in Pune on Wednesday framed the charges against five accused linked to the radical outfit Sanatan Sanstha, marking the beginning of the trials. All the five accused on Wednesday pleaded not guilty to charges against them.

The Special Court of Additional Sessions Judge SR Navandar on Wednesday framed charges against four of the accused — accused number 1, 2, 3 and 5, Dr Virendrasingh Tawade, Sachin Andure Sharad Kalaskar and Vikram Bhave — for murder, conspiracy to commit murder and under Section 16 of the UAPA pertaining to terrorist act and various provisions of the Arms Act for the use of firearm. The court has charged accused number 4, Advocate Sanjeev Punalekar for destruction of evidence in the case.

Dr Dabholkar, a rationalist and founder of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS), was shot dead by two assailants while he was on a morning walk on the VR Shinde Bridge near Omkareshwar Temple in Pune, on the morning of August 20 in 2013. He was 67. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which took over the case from Pune City police in 2014, has till now chargesheeted five accused in the case.

As part of the process of framing of charges on Wednesday, when the court asked each of the accused whether they plead guilty or not guilty to the charges against them, all the accused pleaded not guilty. The process of framing of charges thus marks the beginning of the trial in the eight year old murder case. The court was slated to frame the charges in the last hearing of the case held on September 7. The accused however had sought time, which the court had granted.

Special Public Prosecutor Prakash Suryavanshi, Defence Counsels Virendra Ichalkaranjikar and Prakash Salsingikar were present in the court. While Punalekar and Bhave attended the hearing in person, Tawade, Andure and Kalaskar attended via video conferencing. Court also ordered that Andure and Kalaskar who are lodged in Aurangabad and Arthur Road prison respectively, be transferred to Yerawada Central jail in Pune, for the purpose of the trial. Tawade is currently in Yerawada Jail.

In June 2016, the CBI first arrested Sanatan member and ENT surgeon Dr Virendrasinh Tawade. The chargesheet against him was filed in September 2016, and the CBI called him the mastermind of the conspiracy to kill Dr Dabholkar. In August 2018, the CBI arrested two more Sanatan Sanstha members Sachin Andure and Sharad Kalaskar. The supplementary chargesheet against the two was filed in February 2019 and the two were named by the CBI as the two persons who shot Dr Dabholkar dead. In May 2019, the CBI further arrested Mumbai based lawyer Sanjeev Punalekar and his aide Vikram Bhave, both linked to Sanatan Sanstha. The chargesheet against them was filed in November 2019. The CBI has said that Punalekar played a role in destruction of evidence in the case and Bhave in conducting the recce and destruction of evidence. While Tawade, Andure and Kalaskar are in jail in judicial custody, Punalekar and Bhave are out on bail.

Meanwhile, the defence in its arguments cited the contradiction in the CBI’s claims about the shooters made at two different points. CBI had in its 2016 chargesheet against Tawade, named absconding Sanatan Sanstha members Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar as the two assailants who shot Dabholkar dead. But in August 2018, CBI arrested Andure and Kalaskar and named them as shooters. The CBI had also arrested three others — Amol Kale, Amit Digwekar and Rajesh Bangera – in the Dabholkar murder case, but have not been chargesheeted yet. The three along with Kalaskar have been named as accused in the 2017 murder of Bangalore journalist Gauri Lankesh.

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