The Bombay high court on Thursday said the state has been reduced to a "laughing stock" by adopting elementary methods in probing rationalist Govind Pansare's killing.
A bench of Justices S C Dharamadhikari and B P Colabawalla summoned Maharashtra home department's additional chief secretary on March 28 to explain the cause of the slow progress made in the case.
"Let the state feel some pressure. It must face consequences some day. For most often, the police gets away. No memos are issued, no explanations sought," the bench said.
"If crimes will be probed only after the court's intervention...If in matter after matter, judiciary is the only saviour, then it is a tragedy. What message are we sending to the society?" the judges asked.
They were irked after reading a progress report, submitted in a sealed cover by Maharashtra CID's Special Investigation Team, in the Pansare case.
As per the judges' observations made in an open court, the SIT submitted, among other things, that in order to trace two absconding accused persons in the case, it questioned their relatives.
It also submitted that one of the absconding accused owned an immoveable property in the state and, therefore, the SIT visited the place to trace his whereabouts.
The bench, however, said the SIT must realise that after four years since the crime was committed, it was unlikely the accused would stay somewhere within the state, or close to the crime spot.
"What stops them from going and hiding anywhere across the country? Merely because someone owns a property doesn't mean he will stick around in that area. The accused can seek shelter anywhere in the country. The elementary steps you are taking to nab the accused have reduced you to a laughing stock," the bench said.
"Because of you, the public has a perception that some people can get away, remain uninvestigated only because they enjoy a certain patronage," it said.
It said a "progressive state" such as Maharashtra must feel proud of its thinkers and rationalists.
"The state can't be a silent spectator. This is not a movie that you (police, probe agencies) come after everything is over. And if you (politicians) can't protect your people, then do not contest elections," the bench said.
The bench also directed the Central Bureau of Investigation, probing the 2013 killing of rationalist Narendra Dabholkar, to "tie-up all lose ends" in its investigation without further delay.
The CBI submitted before the HC on Thursday that while the shooters in the Dabholkar case were traced, arrested and the charge sheet was filed, it required some time to probe some additional issues, like arms and weapons used by the accused.
Pansare was shot at on February 16, 2015, in Kolhapur and succumbed to his injuries a few days later on February 20.
Dabholkar was shot dead on August 20, 2013, in Pune while on his morning walk.
The CBI and the state CID are probing the killings of Dabholkar and Pansare, respectively.
The high court has been hearing a plea filed by the family members of Dabholkar and Pansare seeking a court- monitored probe in both the cases