A local court on Saturday remanded Virendra Tawade, a member of Hindu Janjagruti Samiti and an accused in the murder of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, to Central Bureau of Investigation custody till June 16.
Tawade, arrested by the CBI in Panvel near Mumbai last night, was produced before Judicial Magistrate First Class N Shaikh who accepted the investigating agency's plea that custodial interrogation of the accused was required to establish his links with other suspects in the case.
Sending Tawade, an ENT surgeon, in CBI custody till June 16, the Judge said that considering the seriousness of the offence and the stage of investigation, his custodial investigation was required.
HJS is an offshoot of Sanatan Sanstha, a Goa-based right wing Hindu outfit. Tawade is the first accused to be arrested in the nearly three-year-old case. During arguments on custody plea, CBI lawyer B N Raju told the court that the central agency had proof Tawade was in touch with other suspects through e-mails.
When the Judge asked Tawade if he has been ill-treated after arrest, the accused said he was slapped twice by a CBI official.
Tawade's arrest is being seen as a major breakthrough in the case which has remained unsolved for the last three years.
Dabholkar was shot dead by unidentified assailants in Pune on August 20, 2013 when he was taking a morning walk on a bridge. The murder of the 67-year-old prominent campaigner against religious superstition the whole country.
After Pune police drew a blank in tracing the culprits, the case was transferred to CBI in May 2014 on a directive from the Bombay high court while hearing a public interest litigation.
While remanding Tawde to CBI custody till June 16, the judge said considering the seriousness of the offence and the stage of investigation, custodial investigation was required.
During the hearing, when the judge asked Tawde if he was ill-treated after the arrest, he said he was slapped twice by a CBI official.
Tawade's arrest is being seen as a major breakthrough in the case which has remained unsolved for three years. Following his arrest, Prithviraj Chavan said Sanatan Sanstha was a dangerous organisation and renewed the demand for a ban on it.
Chavan, when he was the chief minister (2010–2014), had sent a proposal to the Centre seeking a ban on the radical group after Dabholkar's murder.
"The Maharashtra chief minister should issue clear directive to its lawyers to make out a case for banning Sanatan Sanstha against whom the Anti-Terrorism Squad has proof," he said.
Meanwhile, Abhay Vartak, Sanatan Sanstha's spokesperson, termed the arrest as an international conspiracy to malign the Hindu organisations in the country.
About Tawde's association with the Sanstha, Vartak said, "He is an ENT surgeon and used to come to our ashram for treating the sadhaks (disciples). He was a Sanstha member but was not holding any post."
Speaking to reporters outside the Pune court, Punalekar said the email interaction mentioned by the CBI was of 2008. "When Sarang Akolkar (who is absconding) was a good activist (of Sanatan), he had mailed to thousands of people.
The motorcycle they are talking about is not in use for the last five years," the lawyer said.
Punalekar also alleged that Dabholkar family had "siphoned money received from Naxal outfits" and it was why Dabholkar was killed by these outfits.
Hameed Dabholkar, Narendra Dabholkar's son, rubbished the allegation saying it was only aimed to distract the investigators.
"It has already been clarified by the Maharashtra home minister that there were no irregularities in the funding received by the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (superstition eradication committee headed by Narendra Dabholkar)," he said.