CBI again ducks Pratibha Patil case

via Daily Pioneer published on September 11, 2007

Jalgaon district Cong chief’s murder

A division bench of the High Court comprising Justices RMS Khandeparkar and VK Tahilramani directed the CBI to file its probe report on the Vishram Patil murder case by October 8, after Solicitor General Ghulam Vahanvati sought an additional four weeks’ time to investigate the case.


One of the reasons that Vahanvati attributed to the delay in the CBI filing its report on the investigations into the murder case was that Liladhar Narkhade and Damodar Lokhande, who had been arrested in connection with the incident on charges of hiring contract killers to eliminate Vishram Patil but were later discharged in the case, were not co-operating with the investigating officials.


Vahanvati said that the CBI, if necessary, would obtain non-bailable warrants against Narkhade and Lokhande for questioning in connection with the incident. As was done in the case of Raju Sonawane who was arrested along with Raju Mali in connection with the incident, Nekhade and Lokhande would also be subjected to lie detector tests, if necessary. He went on to seek four weeks’ time to file the probe report on the Vishram Patil murder.


Following a request made by Vahanvati, the HC division bench directed the apex investigating agency to complete its probe and submit the report by October 8. The bench was hearing a petition filed by Rajni Patil, widow of Vishram Patil, alleging that Pratibha Patil, the then UPA presidential candidate, was influencing the investigation.


The Vishram Patil murder case, it may be recalled, had generated considerable heat in national political circles in the run-up to the July 19 presidential poll, with Rajni Patil urging the High Court to interrogate the UPA presidential candidate Pratibha and her brother G N Patil before the poll in connection with the murder of her husband.


The same division bench of the Bombay High Court had not entertained Rajni Patil’s prayer then. In the same hearing held on July 17, the judges had, however, pulled up the CBI for its failure to investigate the serious charges made by Rajni Patil against Pratibha Patil and her brother G N Patil.


The petitioner had among other things alleged that Pratibha was “influencing” and “subverting” the investigation in the case to shield her brother G N Patil, an alleged conspirator in the murder case and a Congress functionary from Jalgaon. She had also contended that Pratibha’s interrogation was a must, considering that Pratibha would go on to enjoy immunity under Article 361 of the Constitution, once she was elected President.


Taking exception to the casual approach adopted by the CBI in investigating the Vishram Patil murder case, Justice Khandeparkar wondered: “Is the intelligence of the institution (CBI) corroding?” The judge had also observed that it was essential for the CBI “to carry out its duty diligently and efficiently”.


Rajni Patil had stated in her petition that her husband Vishram Patil, who had defeated Dr G N Patil in the election to the post of Jalgaon district Congress committee’s president. She had alleged that her husband’s murder was a fall-out within the Jalgaon district Congress unit.


Rajni’s late husband Prof Vishram Patil was heading the Jalgaon District Congress Committee, when he was murdered near his house at Jalgaon, allegedly by his rivals within the party.


Shortly after the murder, the police arrested two alleged assassins Raju Mali and Raju Sonawane. Subsequently, two more persons Liladhar Nekhade and Damodar Lokhande, who had allegedly hired the contract killers, were arrested.


At Monday’s hearing, Rajni Patil’s lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani placed before the court some crucial information, incriminating the alleged assassins, intermediaries and conspirators. He said that mobile records furnished by the Prosecution revealed that there was frequent communication between the accused Raju Mali — who died in police custody April 2006 — Lokhande, Narkhede G N Patil and Dr Ulhas Patil, days before Vishram Patil was murdered on September 21, 2005.


Alluding to the documents produced by the Prosecution, Jethmalani said that a fortnight before the murder (on September 7, 2005) Mali had told both Lokhande and Narkhede that he would kill V.G. Patil shortly. Through his written submission, Jethmalani brought the following details about the mobile conversations to the court’s attention:


  • On September 7, Mali made calls from his mobile phone to the mobiles of the two alleged hirers.


  • September 8, 9 and 10 several calls between Lokhande and Narkhede have been recorded. On September 14, Narkhede made a call to Mali.


  • Dr GN Patil made calls to both Narkhede and Lokhande on August 24, 28, September 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, 13, 14, 20, and 21 ( 9.30 a.m.). Significantly enough, most of these were conference calls. Records also show that he spoke to both of them simultaneously from his mobile.


  • The most damning telephone calls were those made on September 20, a day before the murder and soon after the murder — at around 7.30 am on September 21. In his call made on the day of murder, Mali told Narkhade that “the job is done,” and asked him to “inform Lokhande and to pay him the remaining part of the money.” A witness — the owner of a shop from where Mali made the call — has confirmed this conversation in his statement.


  • At 9.23 am on September 21, the day of the murder, Lokhade gave a ‘missed call’ to Dr. G.N. Patil. Two seconds later, Dr. G.N. Patil put in a conference call from his mobile phone to both Lokhande and Narkhede.


  • Jethmalani also pointed out that several witness statements recorded by the police showed that the motorcycle that Mali and Sonawane used at the time of the alleged crime belonged to Narkhede. In the light of all this evidence, the order of the Aurangabad Bench of the Bombay High Court to discharge Lokhande and Narkhede and simultaneously quash the FIRs against them raised grave suspicions of a politically inspired “cover-up” in the case.


  • In brief, Jethmalani told the court that two alleged co-conspirators Narkhede and Lokhande, were in touch with Mali, but they were discharged by the State, despite evidence of calls made from Mali ‘s mobile.
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