The Bombay High Court on Thursday asked the Maharashtra government to respond and give its position on a plea by the kin of activist and Communist Party of India (CPI) leader Govind Pansare seeking transfer of the probe into his death from a special investigation team (SIT) to the Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS).
It also extended to August 1, the next date of hearing, the time given to Maharashtra Police’s criminal investigation department (CID) to submit a report on the progress made by the SIT since March 30, 2021, into the 2015 killing of Pansare.
A division bench of Justice Revati Mohite-Dere and Justice Sharmaila Deshmukh was informed by senior advocate Ashok Mundargi, a special counsel of the probing agency, that it required time to get instructions on the application seeking transfer of investigation.
Mundargi also urged for more time to file a status report as the investigating officer, who is to replace the previous officer, was unwell and indisposed.
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“We understand today, but this cannot go on indefinitely. We want instructions,” the bench orally said.
The applicant’s lawyer also pointed out that state CID had not filed a status report despite the court’s direction.
After Mundargi said that the agency will file a status report within one week, the court said it was giving the state a time till August 1 and that it hoped and expected some decision would be taken by then.
On July 7, a bench led by Justice Mohite-Dere, which was hearing an application filed by Pansare’s daughter Smita and daughter-in-law Megha, was told by advocate Abhay Nevagi that the state police were yet to make any breakthrough in the case even after seven years of the killing.
Nevagi had told the high court that there was a larger conspiracy in the murders of Pansare and other activists, including Narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh, as all the cases are “linked”. He added that since Dabholkar’s trial has commenced, that investigation cannot be transferred, but a probe into Pansare’s death can be transferred to the ATS.
While Dabholkar was shot dead in Pune on August 20, 2013, Pansare was shot at on February 16, 2015, near his house in Kolhapur. He died four days later. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is investigating the Dabholkar case while the state SIT is probing Pansare’s murder.
The high court has been hearing two pleas and several other applications filed by Smita Pansare and Mukta Dabholkar, the kin of the late activists, seeking court-monitored probes.
Earlier this month, the court had permitted the state to relieve additional superintendent Tirupati Kakade, the investigating officer (IO) of the Pansare case, who is due for transfer, after heading the probe for over four years.
Allowing the state’s request to relieve Kakade, the high court had said that a new IO must be appointed and only then Kakade can take charge of his new posting. As per the court directive of March 2019, no officer investigating the Pansare and Dabholkar cases could be changed or transferred without its permission.
Noting that out of the 14 officers investigating the probe, three had retired and one passed away, the court had also directed the state government to appoint four officers to carry forward the probe.
Meanwhile, the bench, while hearing bail plea of Virendrasinh Tawade, an accused in the 2013 murder case of Dabholkar, expressed its inclination for expediting the trial into the case. The court was informed by advocate Sandesh Patil for the CBI that of 32 witnesses, eight have been examined and the ninth witness, who is a key witness, has been partly examined.
After advocate Hare Krishna Mishra for Tawade sought the bail hearing to be posted after a week, the bench said that if witnesses are being examined, it would expedite the trial. “ We will expedite the trial. We will have to go by the chargesheet, not by evidence. We will keep the application pending. How can we go into evidence while hearing the bail application?” the bench said.
The court then asked Patil to inform next week on how the agency will proceed with their probe and sought “reasonable estimate” on the time to be taken to complete examination of witnesses, after which it will pass an order to expedite the trial.