Four 7.65 mm pistols have been guiding the Karnataka Special Investigation Team’s (SIT) in its investigation of the murder cases of M M Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh. It was revealed in the investigation that Sharad Kalaskar- who was initially arrested by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in the case of Nallasopara arms and ammunition haul- was very much part of the conspiracy behind the assassinations of Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, Comrade Govind Pansare, Kalburgi and Lankesh. Kalaskar had confessed to have dismantled the 7.65 mm pistol used to shoot at Kalburgi and Lankesh, and thrown the pieces in Vasai Creek, an environmentally sensitive zone on the Mumbai-Nashik highway. He also had confessed to have done this following the instructions of Sanjeev Punalekar, a lawyer of Sanatan Sanstha (SS).
A SIT officer speaking to the New Indian Express said, “Since the mangroves are protected, it will require permission from various agencies like the Forest and Environment Department and the Public Works Department. We are awaiting approvals from these agencies. We hope to start work before monsoon arrives as the weapon is indigenous and could erode quickly, destroying the evidence.” The pistol is an important piece of evidence to get to the mastermind of the conspiracy behind all the four political assassinations. Kalaskar in October 2018 had told the SIT that he had dismantled and thrown four pistols and had also shown the spot. The question now is, why did the SIT take nine long months to approach the forest and environment department and other agencies?
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On the other hand, it is reported that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), probing the Dabholkar assassination case, has requested the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) for permission. One wonders, when the lookout is for the same piece of evidence, why are the CBI and SIT asking for permissions separately? It has to be noted that as early as in 2017 itself, the Forensic Science Lab report had revealed that the same gun was used in the assassinations of Kalburgi, Pansare and Lankesh. So this is not an evidence that the investigative agencies can afford to lose.
Never-ending Search For Evidence
Those following the investigations in all the four cases, recognise that, ever since the arrests were made in the case of Lankesh by the SIT, the SIT of Karnataka and Maharashtra, and the CBI have been looking for evidence that would confirm the identity of the shooters in each of the cases. However, they have failed to do so, so far. The first evidence, the diary recovered from Amol Kale, revealed not only a larger Hindutva terror conspiracy against all the intellectuals but also helped the investigative agencies to make the arrests. Apart from this, and the statements and narratives collected from those arrested so far, there is no evidence as such.
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The gun’s discovery would give legitimacy to the statements and narratives collected during the course of the investigation. This is crucial not only in terms of getting hold of the weapon but also to make sure that the investigation is moving in the right direction. However as said earlier, it is already too late to go and look for a gun in the creek and as the Bombay High Court had rightly cautioned the CBI, monsoons would hit the state soon and might make it difficult to find the gun. There also exists the question of logistics necessary for recovering the weapon from the creek. According to the New Indian Express report, a SIT official said machinery from a Netherlands-based private company in Mumbai will be roped in. The machinery will be used for dredging, probing and filtering.
Despite the High Court’s order to have a meeting with all the officials from whom the permissions are required to enter the creek, no such meeting has taken place and the process is being delayed, raising questions about the motives behind this delay.
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