The Supreme Court on Tuesday favoured a CBI probe into the murders of rationalist M M Kalburgi, social activist Govind Pansare and journalist Gauri Lankesh if there is a "common thread" in these incidents which occurred over the last five years.
The top court asked the CBI to inform it by January first week whether it would like to investigate these three murder cases as it is already probing the murder of social activist Narendra Dabholkar.
Karnataka police in its status report told the top court that there appears to be an "intimate connection" between the murders of Kalburgi in 2015 and Gauri Lankesh in 2017.
A bench of justices U U Lalit and Navin Sinha observed that one probe agency should investigate all the four cases, if prima facie it appears that there is a "common thread" in the murders.
"There appear to be four deaths. There are two school of thoughts-- first if all these murders are unconnected then the police should investigate them separately and secondly if prima facie it appears that there is a common thread between all these murders, then in the fitness of things the investigation should be done by one single agency," the bench told the counsel for CBI.
It asked the CBI counsel whether the agency can probe all these murder cases, to which he replied that instructions needs to be sought in this regard.
"You come back in January first week and inform us whether the CBI can probe all these cases, if there appears to be a common thread," the bench told the probe agency counsel.
At the outset, advocate Devadatt Kamat, appearing for Karnataka government, said that certain leads have emerged in the investigation of Kalburgi murder case and there appears to be some connection with the Gauri Lankesh murder case.
"This case (Kalburgi case) has some intimate connections with the Gauri Lankesh murder case. Key conspirators have been identified and certain recoveries have also been made. There are substantial development in the past six months and in next three months charge sheet will be filed in Kalburgi case," Kamat told the bench.
The bench, then called for counsel for Maharashtra who was busy in some other courtroom.
After a while, when the matter was again taken up, the bench asked advocate Nishant Katneshwarkar, appearing for Maharashtra government, as to what was the status of investigations in the murder cases of social activists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare.
Katneshwarkar replied that Dabholkar murder case is being investigated by CBI and Pansare case is being probed by Maharashtra Special Investigation Team (SIT).
"Was the CBI investigation ordered by the state government in Dabholkar murder case or after the intervention of court the probe was handed over to CBI," the bench asked Katneswarkar.
The counsel said that he needs to take instruction in this regard.
The bench was then told by advocate Abhay Nevagi, appearing for petitioner Umadevi M Kalburgi, wife of M M Kalburgi, that in Dhabholkar case, the CBI probe was ordered by the Bombay High Court in which charge sheet has been filed, while in Pansare case his family members have only sought court monitored investigation.
To this, the bench told the counsel for CBI that as per Karnataka police status report there appears to be link between Gauri Lankesh and Kalburgi murder cases.
"Have you (CBI) found any common link in Dhabholkar case and other cases like the Karnataka police says. If anything like this exists, even if there is a prima facie view, then investigation in all the cases should go to the CBI," it said.
Kamat told the bench that investigation is complete in the Gauri Lankesh murder case and charge sheet was filed last month in the court.
"It's all right, let CBI come back to us with their reply and then we will take a view," the bench said and posted the matter for further hearing in January first week.
Noted scholar Kalburgi, 77, was killed at Dharwad in 2015. Pansare was also killed the same year. Lankesh was shot dead on September 5, 2017 in Bengaluru, whereas rationalist Dabholkar was assassinated on August 20, 2013.
The top court had on November 26 pulled up the Karnataka government for "doing nothing and just fooling around" in the investigation and had indicated that it may transfer the case to the Bombay High Court.
The top court had on January 10 sought the response of probe agencies NIA and CBI and the two state governments on the allegation of Uma Devi that no substantial investigation has been carried out so far in the murder case.
Kalburgi's wife, in her petition, had alleged that there was common link between the murder of her husband and that of activists Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare.
Kalburgi, former vice chancellor of Hampi University and a well-known epigraphist, was shot dead in broad daylight at his residence in Kalyan Nagar in Dharwad, Karnataka, on August 30, 2015.
Born in 1938, he was a Sahitya Akademi award-winning writer of old Kannada literature.
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