Ghatkopar resident held in right wing terror case, neighbours say he is innocent
Ghatkopar's Pawar Wadi residents stand by Avinash Pawar as Maharashtra ATS investigates 30-year-old's role in assembling crude bombs recovered during Nalasopara arms haul
Barely two weeks after the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) made a major breakthrough in a right-wing terror plot in the state, arresting three persons from Nalasopara and Pune respectively, investigations have revealed the involvement of a 30-year-old resident from Barve Nagar, Ghatkopar West. The accused, identified as Avinash Anant Pawar alias Ajit Dada, is the first person to be arrested from the city and the fifth to be booked in the case. Pawar, who is employed as a pipe-fitter with Mazgaon Dock Limited (MDL), the company that builds ships and major submarines for the Indian Navy, is likely to have been involved in making and assembling crude bombs, which could have been used to wreak havoc in the state, said ATS officials.
Meanwhile, Pawar's neighbours in Ghatkopar have come out in his support, claiming that he was only a "social worker", who was being framed in the case. They even locked his home to "prevent tampering of evidence".
Avinash Anant Pawar (circled) with friends. Pics/Rajesh Gupta
What the probe revealed
During investigations, ATS officials found that Pawar had been in constant touch with the four arrested accused — Vaibhav Raut, 40, and Sharad Kalaskar, 25, from Nalasopara, and Sudhanva Gondhalkar, 39, and former Shiv Sena corporator Shrikant Pangarkar, 40, from Jalna.
Following his arrest, three mobile phones were found on his person. The police also recovered two more mobile phones and a CPU, after a search of his home in Ghatkopar. "The probe so far has revealed that Pawar was an active member of the module. We are still investigating if he was one of the people, who assembled the crude bombs, which were found from the home and office of Raut in Nalasopara," an official added. The ATS has said that his social media account would also be analysed.
Concerned neighbours seen at Barve Nagar in Ghatkopar, where Pawar lived
Another source said that Pawar had an online portal on "swadeshi material", which sold various indigenous goods, including Indian toys. It was inaugurated at a Panvel-based ashram — affiliated with a right-wing organisation — that is also under the scanner. "We are still investigating his connection with the ashram," the official said. According to officials, the arrested terror suspects were allegedly planning terror attacks in Mumbai, Pune, Nalasopara, Satara and Kolhapur.
Vinod Wadekar, neighbour
'Pawar was very religious'
Residents of Barve Nagar were in shock after Pawar's arrest and have cried foul, claiming that he was being "framed" by officials. Pawar had a very secure upbringing, neighbours told mid-day.
The family lived in Pawar Wadi, where almost everyone was related to each other. They hit a rough patch, when Anant, Pawar's father, died 15 years ago, just before he could complete his SSC. Anant was also an MDL employee, and his wife, Anita, a housewife. "Despite facing hard times, Pawar managed to complete his HSC and then did a diploma. Soon after, he worked as an apprentice with MDL and was permanently hired," said a neighbour, on condition of anonymity.
(Left) Vaibhav Raut, 40 Sharad Kalaskar, 25
"All these allegations are false. Pawar is very religious. He is also a staunch bhakt of Shivaji Maharaj and did a lot of social work in the area," said his friend Vinod Wadekar, adding that it was unlikely that he could be involved in anything illegal. "He was aware of his responsibility," he added.
(Left) Sudhanva Gondhalkar, 39, Shrikant Pangarkar, 40
None of the neighbours recall Pawar getting into any fight in the neighbourhood. "Yes, he was active in right-wing functions and even recently attended an event of a right-wing organisation in Goa, but he knew his limits. Just because someone called him, does not mean that he is linked to any of these terror suspects," said another neighbour. Incidentally, his neighbours also locked his home after his arrest. "Residents had heard stories of crude bombs found by ATS on the day after Raut's arrest from his Nalasopara home. To prevent any such discoveries, the neighbours locked Pawar's home," Wadekar said, adding that they did not want the authorities to "plant any evidence".
Meanwhile, Pawar was produced before a holiday court on Saturday and was remanded in police custody till August 31. His advocate, Sanjeev Punalekar, said that there is no material evidence against Pawar and he was "arrested only on the basis of statements by other accused". At the time of going to press, MDL officials weren't still able to confirm if Pawar worked with them.
Catch up on all the latest Mumbai news, crime news, current affairs, and also a complete guide on Mumbai from food to things to do and events across the city here. Also download the new mid-day Android and iOS apps to get latest updates
DISCLAIMER: mid-day and its affiliates shall have no liability for any views, thoughts and comments expressed on this article.
Mumbai protests against the Pulwama terror attack