“The onerous task falls upon me to ask for the maximum punishment for these accused. The Supreme Court has held that where death is caused by police officers -- be it a case of custodial death or encounter -- a harsher view has to be taken.
This is a cold-blooded murder, coupled with the disappearance of evidence.” With these ominous words, special public prosecutor Vidya Kasle asked that death penalty to be imposed on 13 cops, including former senior PI Pradeep Suryavanshi, who have been accused of faking an encounter, in which Ramnarayan Gupta alias Lakhan Bhaiya was killed. Gupta was a suspected aide of gangster Chhota Rajan.
As per the prosecution, on November 11, 2006, a police team picked up Gupta from Vashi. The same day, he was killed in an encounter near Nana Nani Park in Versova.
Kasle pointed out that Gupta’s kidnap was with intent to murder under Section 364 of the IPC, making it a ‘continuous’ offence. “They kept a watch the previous day. The kidnap took place at 11 am; they had been keeping watch since 10 am,” she added.
Meanwhile, encounter specialist Pradeep Sharma, dressed in a light blue shirt, appeared more at ease on Monday, and even appeared to be sharing a light moment with a co-accused. Sharma has been let off on all charges.
Drawing parallels to a slew of Supreme Court judgments dealing with the matter, Kasle continued, “Lakhan was unprotected, and in their custody. He was in a position to be dominated.” Kasle added that the imposition of the death penalty was ‘irrespective’ of personal opinion, of either the court or anyone else. “You mean to say it is not judge-centric,” judge VD Jadhavar interjected.
More encounters are coming under scrutiny. Their genuineness is never questioned or looked into. [Lakhan] was not even brought in for questioning. He was brought to be shot. They must be given death sentence as fake encounters are cold-blooded murders,” she said. Kasle also referred to observations of the Supreme Court that referred to Nazi war criminals acting on ‘illegal’ orders. “They [the police officers] could have refused to obey,” added Kasle.
“All the police officers [involved in the encounter] should get nothing short of death. Accused numbers 4 and 6 (Shailendra Pandey and Akhil Khan) had an active role in the murder, and they should also face the maximum penalty,” Kasle finished.
Appearing on behalf of cops Tanaji Desai, Manoj Raj, Mohammed Shaikh, Sandeep Sardar and Suresh Shetty, advocate JG Bhanushali asked the court to hear the cries of the families. “The prosecution has not made out any extraordinary circumstances which would call for the death penalty,” he argued. Bhanushali also implicitly referred to the case of Abu Salem while saying, “Other countries are moving away from the death penalty... Countries are now saying don’t give death, or we won’t send him [Salem] to your country.”
‘Once uniform goes, no threat to society’
Referring specifically to Tanaji Desai’s case, Bhanushali argued that the only evidence against him was a cartridge found with him. “He has not fired the bullets,” Bhanushali emphasized. Coming to Sandeep Sardar, Bhanushali said he was only responsible for guarding the deceased, and could not have known about the actual murder.
Holding the brief for policemen Ratnakar Kamble and Vinayak Shinde, advocate Sudeep Pasbola said they were only ‘lowly constables’ obeying orders. In Shinde’s case, there was even a doubt as to whether he was at the crime scene. “There is absolutely no evidence of motive, extreme culpability is lacking,” he added. On the question whether the accused were a menace to society, he said, “I humbly submit that once the uniform goes, they are no threat to society.”