'Solving Dey case gave me greater pride than 26/11'
Ramesh Mahale, responsible for the chargesheet against the accused in the murder, narrates the obstacles the force faced in cracking the case, and the satisfaction at accomplishing the task
Officials from the Crime Branch were busy with work on June 11, 2011. Suddenly at 2 pm, we received news of gunshots being fired at Powai. We were told that eyewitnesses had seen a man being shot and murdered but at that time we did not know who the victim was. However, when we heard the news that it was J Dey, the force was shocked. We felt like we had lost not just an honest journalist but also a friend.
Soon the entire force began to investigate the murder with vigour. Everyone from the commissioner to constable to even police informants wanted to crack this case. Avoiding the distractions that came in the form of protest marches, to directives from the High Court, we focussed our efforts on the case, ignoring rumours that were swirling around. Each day during investigations, the six teams that were organised would be summoned to Joint CP (Crime) Himanshu Roy’s and Additional CP (Crime) Deven Bharti’s offices at 11 am and quizzed about the previous day’s work, asked about the further course of action and what information they would seek next.
After the crime, some lawyers and NGOs petitioned the High Court via civil and criminal PILs to have the case transferred to the CBI. Many senior lawyers alleged the Crime Branch didn’t have the time to solve the case in the stipulated period, deliberately misleading journalists. Simultaneously, the prosecutors were regularly updating the High Court on the progress in our investigation. After reading the contents the judges on the division bench discussed the case and agreed to give police enough time to investigate. But the petitioner’s lawyers argued to only give us three more days to solve the case. The prosecutor asked for 15 days.
At the time another senior officer was sitting next to me in the courtroom. I told him we could solve the case within seven days. He responded that such a feat would be impossible, but it could be pulled off in the 15 days given by the High Court. Two to four days later, we had definite information about one suspect. We decided to keep him under observation, not arrest him. Accordingly, we assigned teams to monitor him. All our officers were clearly instructed on what date and time to conduct the surveillance. That’s why the officers were able to successfully arrest seven suspects simultaneously.
Our investigations then revealed the kingpin in the murder was Rajan Sadashiv Nikhalje alias Chhota Rajan. He then approached TV channels and himself admitted he had a role in the murder. The state rewarded all members of the investigation team Rs 10 lakh, and several dignitaries were present for the felicitation. I still remember the applause we received at the Azad Maidan police club from senior police officers. I must mention that I am known as the investigating officer for the November 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, but solving this case gave me greater pride as it was more challenging.
Milestones in the J Dey case
June 7, 2011: Builder Vinod Asrani points out J Dey as the target in Uma Beer Bar, Mulund.
June 9, 2011: Journalist Jigna Vora leaves Mumbai on a trip with her family to Darjeeling and Sikkim.
June 11, 2011: J Dey is shot by four motorcycle-borne shooters at Hiranandani Park. Satish Kalia using a Czech-made gun fires five shots.
June 18, 2011: Vora returns from her trip. The prosecution’s theory is that she left the city so as to avoid any suspicion.
June 27, 2011: Police ‘crack’ the case and arrest seven men, including main shooter Rohit Thangappan alias Satish Kalia, with Anil Waghmode, Arun Dhake, Sachin Gaikwad, Nilesh Shelge, Abhijit Shinde and Mangesh Agawane. Kalia formally admits to Chhota Rajan’s role in the crime.
July 3, 2011: Police arrest Vinod Asrani for his role in Dey’s murder.
July 20, 2011: Crime Branch gets custody of Deepak Sisodiya from Nainital, who allegedly provided the gun.
August 4, 2011: Chhota Rajan talks to Manoj, a relative of Asrani’s, implicating Vora for the first time. Police intercept the conversation.
September 5, 2011: Police arrest Paulson Joseph for financing the shooters.
November 25, 2011: Vora is arrested after days of speculation about her involvement due to professional rivalry.
December 3, 2011: A 3,055-page chargesheet is filed against the seven men first arrested, plus Joseph, Asrani and Sisodiya.
February 20, 2012: Another chargesheet of 1,471 pages is filed against Vora.
July 26, 2012: Vora is granted bail by the MCOCA Special court.
December 12, 2012: Asrani is granted bail owing to ill health
January 2013: Vora files a discharge application, which is currently pending.
April 8, 2013: After weeks of delayed hearings on the bail applications of Sisodiya and Joseph, their applications are rejected, but the trial is expedited.