Pune: A day after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested high court advocate Sanjeev Punalekar in rationalist Narendra Dabholkar’s murder case, the CBI said in Pune court on Sunday that Punalekar had helped destroy the weapons used in the crime. The investigative agency’s lawyer made the submission while demanding the custody of Punalekar and his assistant Vikram Bhave, a member of the Sanatan Sanstha.
The CBI’s lawyer further informed the court that Bhave had done a recce of the escape route. The court today sent both of them to CBI custody till June 1.
The CBI had arrested the duo from Mumbai yesterday and produced them before the special court of S.N. Sonawane, district and additional sessions judge, on Sunday afternoon.
Punalekar is a member of the Hindu Vidhidhya Parishad, a lawyers collective that provides legal support to members of the Sanatan Sanstha and others belonging to the right-wing who have been accused in various cases. Bhave was convicted for the 2008 Gadkari Rangayatan Theatre bomb blast in Thane. He spent five years in jail and was released on bail by the Bombay high court in 2013.
CBI lawyer Prakash Suryawanshi, while demanding their custody, told the court that Sharad Kalaskar, one of the shooters of Dabholkar visited Punalekar’s Mumbai office in June 2018 and informed him about his role in the murder. Vikram Bhave was also present at that time. He said: “Punalekar asked Kalaskar to destroy the arms used in the murders of Dr Dabholkar and Gauri Lankesh. On August 23, 2018, Kalaskar dismantled four country-made pistols and threw them from a bridge in the Thane Creek when he was returning to Nalasopara from Pune.”
Suryawanshi asked for 14 days’ custody, saying, “The CBI wants to investigate Punalekar’s role in the destruction of the firearms used in the commission of the offence, recovery of the dismantled weapons. CBI will also interrogate him to unearth the entire conspiracy which is in exclusive knowledge of the accused and his involvement with others in the case having national ramification.”
While demanding Bhave’s custody, Suryawanshi argued that he did a recce of the place from where Kalaskar and Andure picked up the motorbike, the route to reach the spot of murder as well as the escape route. He said: “The CBI wants to know about the route.”
However, Punalekar, while defending himself, said: “All the allegations against us are not new. The CBI has been aware of it for over eight months and since then they haven’t made any new allegations. Then why are they are arresting us now? The CBI is arresting me because I am the lawyer of people accused in Dr Dabholkar’s murder case.”
He added: “Kalaskar had told the Karnataka magistrate on October 18, 2018, about sharing information with me. The Karnataka Police is investigating Gauri Lankesh murder, the CBI is investigating Dabholkar’s murder case and the Maharashtra Police is investigating Govind Pansare’s murder [and they] exchange information regularly. Hence, the CBI has been aware of it since October. Kalaskar was in the custody of CBI for 18 days in September last year and the CBI would have got this information at that time. I have been available for the last six months. But the CBI did not investigat or arrest me earlier.”
He further said: “The high court had put pressure to arrest Punalekar and Bhave after reading the sealed report submitted by the CBI.”
Virendra Ichalkaranjikar, while accusing that the investigation done by the CBI was unfair, said, “The CBI had interrogated him in September last year for two days. He is an assistant of Punalekar. CBI had all the information about Bhave since September last year. Then why is he being arrested now?”
He also said, “The CBI in 2016 had said that Sarang Akolkar and Vinay Pawar were shooters. Now they and their same witnesses say that the shooters are Kalaskar and Andure. This investigation is not fair and forward.”
Dabholkar was shot dead at Omkareshwar Bridge in Pune on the morning of August 20, 2013. The CBI had filed a chargesheet against Tawde in the murder of Dabholkar in September 2016 and he was the first to be arrested in this case. That year, CBI had told the court that Vinay Pawar and Sarang Akolkar had fired shots at Dabholkar.
Last year, the CBI arrested Kalaskar, Andure, Rajesh Bangera, Amit Degvekar and Amol Kale, alleging their involvement in the murder. In February, the agency filed a supplementary chargesheet against Kalskar and Andure naming them as shooters in Narendra Dabholkar’s murder.
On Sunday, the judge also granted permission to the two lawyers of Punalekar to visit him while he is in the custody.
Meanwhile, Milind Deshmukh, the chief secretary of the Maharashtra Andhashradha Nirmulan Samiti, has welcomed the arrests of Punalekar and Bhave. He said, “They are arrested late. But we are hopeful that these arrests will lead to the mastermind of the murder.”