Three years after journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh was shot dead and nearly two years since the chargesheet was filed in the murder case, the charges are yet to be framed and the trial is yet to begin. Gauri Lankesh was shot dead outside her residence in Bengaluruâ€™s Rajarajeshwari Nagar on September 5, 2017. Subsequently, over the course of one year, the Special Investigation team arrested 18 persons in connection with the crime.
In its 9,235 page chargesheet submitted to the Principal Session Court in November 2018, the SIT had named 18 persons including 16 who had already been arrested and were allegedly members of the Hindu Janajagruthi Samiti, an offshoot of right-wing Hindu outfit Sanatan Sanstha. The KCOCA (Karnataka Control of Organised Crime) Act was invoked after it was established that the scribe was killed as a result of an organised criminal conspiracy.
Speaking to TNM, S Balan, the public prosecutor in the case, said that the delay in starting the trial was due to the defenceâ€™s â€śdelaying tacticsâ€ť. The Principal Sessions judge hears all KCOCA cases. The Principal Session judge is also overburdened with work due to his administrative responsibilities in addition to hearing criminal and civil cases, along with those filed under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, he said.
â€śEvery day a lot of time is spent in administrative work by the Principal Sessions judge. This case has not been taken up on priority basis despite the fact that KCOCA cases should be given preference. A special court should be constituted to try the Gauri Lankesh murder case just like the Madani Case. Only then can it be tried in a speedy manner,â€ť he added. During this time, the former judge presiding over the case, Justice Ammannavar, was elevated to the Karnataka High Court and the seat remained vacant for one month before another appointment was made earlier this March.
Defence attorney Amruthesh, who was appointed by Sanathan Sanstha, has held ground and not allowed the charges to be framed against the accused, stating that all the accused were not produced in court on the same day.
â€śThe prosecution brings in five or six accused and we held ground stating that all the accused should be produced when charges are being framed. Since they are lodged in different jails, the prosecution has not been able to produce them at once due to various reasons,â€ť Amruthesh told TNM.
The prosecution, however, argued that the defence was protracting the trial by filing individual bail petitions and individual appeals for the bail petitions that have so far been rejected.
â€śThe accused are lodged in Mysuru, Bengaluru, Ballari and Belagavi jails. Amol Kale in the Mysuru Court. The defence is always requesting more time and petitioning for adjournment. They have been filing frivolous applications. Both Sessions and High Courts have denied bail applications. Then they file one bail application each for each of the accused and when those are rejected, they file appeals. There will be oral arguments from the defence and prosecution. This is delaying the trial,â€ť S Balan said, while adding that the prosecution has also filed petitions demanding release of property of the accused that the police has attached.
The next hearing is on September 8 and this one is also a hearing for another bail application for five accused persons including A5, A6, A9, A13 and A14.
SIT sleuths allege that Amol Kale, the prime accused, assigned specific roles to each of the arrested persons. None of them knew each otherâ€™s original names and they only had to concentrate on their specific task to avoid suspicion.
KT Naveen Kumar, who was the first person arrested in the Gauri murder case, was allegedly involved in conducting background checks and was a part the logistics team.
Sujeet Kumar, believed to be Kaleâ€™s go to man for recruiting people to carry out the murders, allegedly shortlisted names and recruited people to carry out the murder. Sujeet Kumar allegedly recruited Parashuram Waghmore, the alleged shooter in the case.
Amit Degwekar, who was allegedly involved in the 2009 Margao blast case, is believed to be Amol Kaleâ€™s right-hand man and financier of operations.
Manohar Edave was allegedly in-charge of carrying out reconnaissance of Gauri Lankeshâ€™s house and workplace. He is believed to have created a timeline of her day-to-day movements.
Rajesh Bangera, government employee and former PA to MLC Veena Achaiah, was allegedly the weapons expert, and trained Sujeet Kumarâ€™s recruits in shooting. Rajesh Bangera allegedly trained these recruits at a farmhouse owned by another arrested accused Bharat Kurne.
SIT sources say that Amol Kale had allegedly instructed Ganesh Miskin to shoot Gauri Lankesh in case Parashuram Waghmore failed to do so. After the shooting, Ganesh and Parashuram allegedly sped away and met with another accused in the case â€“ Amit Baddi on Mysuru Road. They handed over the weapon, helmet and bike to Amit Baddi. They changed their clothes inside a Maruti Omni van, which Amit Baddi had brought and the duo made their way to Nelamangala.
â€śThey reached Nelamangala and another accused Bharat Khurne got them into a bus to Bijapur,â€ť the SIT source said.
Amit Baddi allegedly took the weapon, the bike, clothes and helmet to a safe house in Kumbalgodu owned by another arrested accused Suresh Kumar and handed them over to Sudhanva Gondhalkar. Sources say that Sudhanva allegedly kept the clothes, weapon and bike in the safehouse for over a week. Another arrested accused, Mohan Naik allegedly rented the house from Suresh.
â€śIf we get custody of Sudhanva and Sharad, we will be able to figure out the details of the murder weapon,â€ť the source added.
Sudhanva Gondhalkar and Sharad Khalaskar were among five people arrested by Maharashtraâ€™s Anti-Terrorism Squad earlier in August in Nalasopara. The ATS had uncovered a cache of arms including IEDs and pistols. One of the accused in the case, Sharad Khalaskar, had allegedly confessed that he threw the pistol in the Vashi Creek.
â€śWe have requested custody of the weapons in order to carry out forensic tests,â€ť the source said.
So far, the SIT has arrested five more people in connection with the murder and believe that Amol Kale is their mastermind and handler.
The Kalburgi murder
The Karnataka CID, which is probing the murder of Professor MM Kalburgi, has now compiled a list of eight men, one of whom they believe shot Professor Kalburgi.
CID sources say that the SIT probing Gauri's murder decoded information found in Amol Kale's diary and handed over the aliases of eight men, whom they believe were involved in Kalburgi's murder.
"Amol Kale, Amit Degwekar, Amit Baddi, Rajesh Bangera and Ganesh Miskin were involved in Kalburgi's murder but none of them were the shooters. We are looking for the shooter," CID sources had told TNM earlier.