Monday, January 31, 2011

‘Sonawane drove Popat to murder’

Slain accused Popat Shinde and his wife, Jijabai

Mateen Hafeez and Prafulla Marpakwar TNN

The arrested family members of Popat Shinde, the prime accused in the murder of additional collector Yeshwant Sonawane, have alleged that the official had been constantly harassing Popat for hafta, which was why the oil pilferer finally got frustrated and killed Sonawane. Popat’s son Vikas Shinde, 19, and son-in-law Deepak Borse have told the police that Popat was under severe mental stress as he could not come up with the bribe money and his wife, who had recently died, had been ailing. Popat had also taken a huge loan for a house that he reportedly was thinking of selling.

Popat’s other son Kunal, 17, made similar statements to the police, but sensationally added that Popat, who is in hospital with 75% burns, burnt himself, while he (Kunal ) burnt Sonawane.

Manmad police said they are looking into the bribery claims. Home minister R R Patil said, “We are probing the entire case at a higher level.” Lens on hafta claims in oil killing

Cops Probe Statements That Sonawane Was In Panewadi To Seek Bribe
Senior police officials said they have begun probing the contradictory statements made in the case involving the burning alive of additional collector (Nashik) Yeshwant Sonawane in Panewadi near Manmad on January 25. Those arrested for killing Sonawane have alleged to the police that Sonawane was in Panewadi to demand a bribe from Popat Shinde, the main accused in the murder case.

Earlier, the complainants in the FIR, Sonawane’s PA Raju Kale and driver Kailash Gawli had said that Sonawane was conducting a raid on oil pilferers when he was murdered by the oil mafia. Officials interrogating the 10 arrested men and Popat, who is in J J Hospital with 75% burns, have said that they have alleged that Sonawane was repeatedly demanding bribes from Popat.

Most notably, Popat’s son Kunal Shinde, 17, who has been arrested, has deviated from the replies of the others and told police that Popat burnt himself in frustration after Sonawane’s demands for hafta, which led to an angry Kunal hitting and burning Sonawane. After Kunal’s sensational statement before the Manmad police, officials said they may ask for permission to do narco-analysis, liedetector and brain-mapping tests on Kunal to establish the truth.

A senior police official said nothing had been established as yet. “What Kunal told the police appears to be the defence’s line. Since he was arrested two days after the death of Sonawane, his lawyers must have briefed him on what he should tell the police. We are probing all aspects,” he said.

Three of the 10 arrested men – Kunal, Vikas, 19, and Deepak Borse – are of Popat’s family. A Manmad police official clarified that the statements of the accused have not been finalized. “We have recorded statements from the 10 arrested men and Popat Shinde. But they are not complete versions. The interrogations are still ongoing,” said an officer involved in the probe.

Nashik superintendent of police Milind Bharambe said that since the case is sensitive and still under investigation, it is not appropriate to comment on Kunal’s statement. Home minister R R Patil said there is no need to take cognisance of statements made by the accused. “We are probing the entire case at a higher level. In my opinion, no importance should be attached to the statements made by the accused,” he said.

A senior official said, “Now Sonawane is dead, while Popat is in critical condition and unable to speak. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to establish the charges against the additional collector.”

The arrested men have alleged to the police that Sonawane had demanded Rs 3 lakh as a bribe from Popat. They claimed that Rs 2 lakh was paid in two installments of Rs 1 lakh each. Popat then asked for more time to pay the rest, but Sonawane’s men kept asking for the money, the accused have told the police. Popat’s elder son Vikas told police that Sonawane threatened to file cases of oil theft and adulteration if he wasn’t paid. Deepak Borse, Popat’s son-inlaw, has also reportedly told the police that his father-in-law faced constant demands for hafta.

Senior police officials in Manmad are shocked over the manner in which Sonawane was burnt. A veteran social worker said that both Sonawane and Popat were known to each other ever since Sonawane was posted in the area in 2003. In fact, the same year, when Popat purchased a house there, Sonawane was there for the house warming.

The rift between them reportedly grew after another oil gang stepped in to take over the business in the Nashik-Manmad-Dhule belt. The cold war between Sonawane and Popat reached its peak when Popat complained to the ACB, which attempted to trap the additional collector twice, on August 30 and 31. “After the traps failed, the district administration concentrated on Popat’s illegal activities,” said an official.

Vikas has told police that his mother, Jijabai, was suffering from several ailments. While her health deteriorated, their father was upset. He told police that his father sold a plot of land to pay for his mother’s hospital expenses. Borse and Vikas said that Popat was nearly bankrupt. He had taken a loan from business friends and a bank to construct a bungalow. Popat was thinking of selling the bungalow, Vikas is learnt to have told the police.

Popat has told the police that he burnt Sonawane himself, which deviates from Kunal’s version. However, the FIR filed by Kale and Gawli corroborates with Popat’s version. Sources said the version of the other accused also matches Popat’s and the FIR’s versions.


On January 25, additional collector Yeshwant Sonawane was burnt alive by members of the oil mafia at Panewadi near Manmad. Here are the varying versions of those who filed the First Information Report and those who have been arrested:


Filed by Sonawane’s personal assistant Raju Kale and driver Kailash
Gawli with the Manmad police

1.30 pm: Sonawane leaves Chandwad after controlling a protest by the Onion Exporters’ Association. Kale is also in the car driven by Gawli

2.00: The three are passing through Panewadi when Sonawane spots a tanker behind Sagar Dhaba, which is owned by Popat Shinde. Sonawane asks Gawli to take the car to the dhaba. Sonawane spots oil being pilfered and asks the culprits to stop. He captures the goings-on on the video camera of his mobile phone. He calls a government official to inform him of the pilferage

2.05: Popat’s employee Rajiv Shirsat calls Shinde to inform him about Sonawane’s arrival

2.20: Popat and his sons, Kunal, 17, and Vikas, 19, and son inlaw, Deepak Borse, arrive at the spot.

2.30: Popat and Sonawane engage in a heated argument that turns into a brawl. Kunal hits Sonawane with an iron rod. The other culprits beat up Kale and Gawli and ask them to leave. The duo escape in Sonawane’s official car. Popat pours kerosene from a container onto Sonawane and gets drenched in the process too. Popat sets Sonawane on fire and himself gets burnt. The culprits then rush Popat to a local hospital, leaving Sonawane struggling for his life

3.15: Manmad police, after receiving information, reach the spot to find Sonawane’s charred body

Police say they are investigating the following allegations that the accused, including Popat Shinde, Vikas Shinde, Deepak Borse and the others, have made during their interrogations. The statements of the accused have not yet been finalized Kunal Shinde, 17, is the only accused with a different version of how the incident ended

2.30 pm: Sonawane insists on his hafta, while Popat promises to pay later. A frustrated Popat pours kerosene on himself and burns himself. Kunal gets angry, hits Sonawane with a rod, pours kerosene on the additional collector and sets him on fire

2.35: Popat’s men rush him to a local hospital, leaving Sonawane behind 1 pm: Family members gather at Popat Shinde’s home in Manmad for rituals on the 10th day after the death of Popat’s wife, Jijabai

2.05: Popat receives a call from one of his employees about Sonawane’s arrival at Sagar Dhaba. An annoyed Popat leaves for Panewadi along with his sons and son in-law

2.20: Popat meets Sonawane and takes him aside to discuss something a few metres from the others. Sonawane demands hafta and the two get into an argument and start pushing each other around

2.30: An angry Kunal hits Sonawane with a rod, causing Sonawane to fall. Popat pours kerosene on Sonawane and some of it falls on himself. Popat sets Sonawane on fire and gets burnt himself

2.35: The men rush Popat to a local hospital, leaving Sonawane behind

The Times of India, January 31, 2011

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bail hearing of Malegaon accused postponed

Mateen Hafeez TNN
A special court has adjourned till February 7 the hearing of the bail application of nine suspects arrested for the 2006 Malegaon serial bomb blasts.

The Muslim youths were arrested by the Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad (ATS) for conspiracy and planting four RDX bombs in the town on September 8, 2006. But the suspects have all along maintained that they had no role in the blasts and were wrongly framed in the case.

After Swami Aseemanand’s confessional statement that a Hindu right wing group was involved in the blasts, the nine suspects approached the Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act (Mcoca) court seeking bail. “Based on Aseemanand’s confessional statement, the suspects filed the bail plea. The court has asked us to furnish a certified copy of the confession on February 7,” said advocate Mubin Solkar, who is representing the accused.

“Aseemanand in his confession states how the blast conspiracy was hatched and executed.
“We relied on the confession and submitted a copy, which was available on the Internet. But the court asked us to furnish a certified copy of the confession.”

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a reply in the Mcoca court on Friday, saying that in view of Aseemanand’s confession, the bureau was furthering the investigation after obtaining permission from the court.

“The (nine) accused have not put forward any valid ground for consideration of their bail application and thus it deserves to be rejected,” the CBI said in its reply, adding that it needs more time to investigate the case.

Gulzar Azmi, secretary, legal cell, Jamiat-ul-Ulema, said the organisation was representing the nine accused in the case. “They have been wrongly implicated. We are hoping for speedy bail.”

The Times of India, January 29, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oil mafia burn addl collector alive

Additional collector for Nashik Yashwant Sonawane (L) grabbed one of his assailants when he was set on fire. Popat Shinde suffered 80% burns and was captured with 4 others

He Spotted Fuel Theft In Manmad, Tried To Stop It

Yogesh Naik & Mateen Hafeez TNN

An additional collector was burnt alive on Tuesday afternoon in Manmad, near Malegaon, when he tried to call other government officials to the scene of a fuel theft. The perpetrators doused Yashwant Sonawane (44) with kerosene and set him afire in a development that sent shockwaves across the state.

Sonawane was found dead in a field from severe burns. But before dying he clung on to one of his attackers, Popat Shinde, making it impossible for him to flee. Shinde sustained 80% burns and is critical. He has been arrested with four others.

The gruesome killing led to home minister R R Patil ordering an immediate crackdown on the fuel mafia across the state. CM Prithviraj Chavan ordered an inquiry and announced Rs 25 lakh for the family, payment of the officer’s salary till retirement and other compensation. Furious gazetted officers plan a strike on Thursday. Deputy CM Ajit Pawar called it a blot on humanity.

Sonawane had gone to Chandvad, where farmers had been agitating, and was proceeding towards Nandgaon when he spotted kerosene pilferage at Panewadi village in Manmad taluka, said Nashik divisional commissioner Jayant Gaikwad. Major companies like HPCL, BPCL and IOC have depots in the area. When Sonawane saw kerosene being stolen from a tanker outside the shop of Popat Shinde, he shot of video on his cellphone and called local officials for a raid. Shinde’s servant heard Sonawane calling the officials and alerted his boss. Soon, Shinde’s accomplices accosted the officer and doused him with kerosene after a scuffle and set him on fire.


“Shinde arrived on the scene and got into a heated argument with Sonawane. Shinde’s son Kunal and other servants also reached the spot,” said Gaikwad. “There were two kerosene cans of 20 litres each at the scene. One of the assailants poured the contents of a can over Sonawane and set him ablaze. Sonawane at that point caught hold of Shinde, who sustained nearly 80% burns and is critical.”

The divisional commissioner said fuel pilferage is common in Panewadi village. The oil depots in the area supply fuel to nearly 12 districts in northern Maharashtra and Marathwada.

Gaikwad said Shinde had lost his wife just 10 days ago. “We are taken aback at how he could have committed such a gory crime while in grief,” said Gaikwad. The attacker had a criminal record and was externed once.

Sonawane’s cell phone, with the video, is now with the police. The tanker from which the kerosene was being pilfered has been seized.Shinde, Sitaram Bhalerao, Machhindra Sarvankar, Vikas Shinde and Raju Shirsat have been arrested. Kunal and Ajay Sonawane are wanted.

Nashik collector P Velarasu said Sonawane was low profile and hard-working. “Local police reached the spot within minutes of receiving information. But it was too late. Sonawane had already died,” said Velarasu.

The body was taken to Nashik where the last rites were performed later. A postmortem was conducted on Tuesday evening. Sonawane is survived by his wife, who lives in Nashik, and two sons who study in Pune. Sonawane was a native of Dindori.
He had joined the government as deputy collector in 1994 and was expected to be absorbed into the IAS later.

Food and civil supplies minister Anil Deshmukh, who is visiting Satara, said the government will unearth the adulteration racket. The CM asked revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat to reach the spot. Thorat said, “We will not hesitate to apply MCOCA against the culprits.”

The Times of India, January 26, 2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

‘CBI is toeing ATS line in blasts probe’

BEHIND BARS: Residents stage a demonstration against the arrest of Malegaon youths in the 2006 blasts

Mateen Hafeez I TNN
Mumbai: The special CBI team, camping in Malegaon to reinvestigate the 2006 blast case, has irked some residents who said the sleuths were not probing the “rightwing angle” as confessed by Swami Aseemanand.

The CBI team has reportedly asked the imam of a mosque why Muslims in Malegaon are supporting SIMI members, who are allegedly responsible for the blasts.

The twist in the tale came after Naba Kumar Sarkar alias Swami Aseemanand (59) of the Shabridham Ashram told a magistrate that “his men” were involved in the blasts. Following that, the CBI filed an application in a special court in Mumbai, seeking permission for reinvestigation.

On September 8, 2006, four RDX bombs planted on bicycles near a mosque at a cemetery in Mushawerat Chowk went off, killing 31 people and injuring 297. The Maharashtra ATS had then picked up nine youths and ever since, Malegaon residents have been protesting against the arrests.

A 10-member CBI team arrived in Malegaon on Wednesday. CBI officials met an imam and asked him to come to the government guesthouse in the Camp area for routine inquiry.

The CBI team asked the imam, “Why do people in Malegaon support the absconding SIMI youths who are responsible for the blasts?” The imam told the CBI that the residents did not agree that the arrested youths were behind the blasts. He reportedly asked, “When Aseemanand has confessed to his crime, why are you not investigating the case on those lines?”

Sources said after grilling the imam, the CBI team visited the residences of three wanted accused, Munawwar Hussain, Riyaz Arsalan and Ishtiyaque Ahmed. The officials asked their family members about their whereabouts. “Ask your children to surrender. It is better for them,” the team members told the families. The residents said that the CBI is retracing the ATS probe and not exploring the other side as confessed by Aseemanand.

M V Laad, who is part of the CBI team, refused to comment.

The Times of India, January 24, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Nine Malegaon blast accused seek bail

2006 CARNAGE: Thirty one people died and 297 were injured in the blasts

Mateen Hafeez TNN

Mumbai: Nine men, arrested for allegedly engineering the 2006 bomb blasts near a mosque in Malegaon, on Monday moved a special Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act (MCOCA) court seeking bail. The accused have cited Swami Aseemanand’s confession pointing to the involvement of a right-wing group in the explosions.

Pointing out that they have been languishing in jail for the last over four years, the arrested suspects, in their bail plea, said, “From the confession it is clear that those responsible for the 2006 Malegaon blasts are persons far removed from the current accused.”

“There is no direct evidence of their involvement in the said offence,” the one of the lawyers representing the suspects told TOI from Malegaon. Gulzar Azmi, general secretary of Jamiat-ul-Ulema, a socioreligious NGO fighting for the Malegaon men, said, “We have filed the bail application and are hoping our men will be released soon.”

The special court has directed the investigating agency to file its reply by January 28.

On September 8, 2006, three bombs went off inside a cemetery and a fourth one in central part of Malegaon, killing 31 people and injuring 297. Following the blasts, the anti-terrorism squad (ATS) arrested nine persons—Salman Farsi, Shabir Ahmed, Noorulhuda Doha, Rais Ahmed, Mohammed Ali, Asif Khan, Javed Sheikh, Faroogue Ansari and Abrar Ahmed—saying that the men had executed the blasts with the help of two Pakistanis. On December 21, 2006, the case was transferred to the CBI following a public outcry against the arrests. Aseemanand, arrested on November 23 last year for his alleged role in the 2007 blasts at Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid, in his confession, said, “ Sadhvi Pragay Thakur, Sunil Joshi, Sandeep Dange, Bharat Riteshwar and I gathered in Surat on June 23, 2006. We planned to carry out bomb blasts at Ajmer shrine, Mecca Masjid and in Malegaon and Samjhauta Express. I suggested that we begin by carrying out blasts in Malegaon as it has a large Muslim population.”

Till November 16, 2009, the CBI had neither filed a supplementary charge sheet in the case nor had it produced any evidence against the arrested accused. S S Shaikh, a senior advocate representing the accused, said, “The CBI filed a supplementary charge sheet after the court said that the men could be released on bail.”

Special CBI team will visit the powerloom town next week
Areinvestigating special investigation the 2006 team Malegaon (SIT) of blasts the CBI case , which , will is visit the powerloom town this week in connection with the probe. “The CBI team will visit all the four blast sites and speak to witnesses to collect more information about the accused and their involvement. The CBI team is also expected to meet members of Kul-Jamaati Tanzeem, an NGO comprising all Muslim sects,” said a source. A special court had granted permission to CBI to re-probe the case in wake of Swami Aseemanand’s confession linking Hindu groups to the attacks.

NCP seeks ban on RSS, Abhinav Bharat
New Delhi: The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)— a key UPA ally— on Monday demanded a ban on the RSS and the Hindu extremist group Abhinav Bharat for their alleged involvement in terrorist activities in the country.

The demand was put forward by the NCP general secretary Tariq Anwar during his meeting with the Union home minister P Chidambaram here. He also demanded that Muslims arrested in connection with the 2006 Malegaon blast case should be released immediately.

“They (Muslims) should be released immediately as there is ample proof of Hindu radicals carrying out the Malegaon blasts,” Anwar told reporters after the meeting.

Referring to the confessional statement made by Swami Aseemanand about involvement of Hindu radicals in a number of blasts, Anwar said he also asked the home minister to constitute a task force headed by either a sitting Supreme Court or high court judge to have a re-look into all the blasts that took place since 1994 and conduct a fair inquiry.

Notice to govt on Pragya bro’s plea
The Monday Delhi high sought court replies on from the Union government and the NIA on a petition filed by Malegaon blast accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur’s brother Ananth Brahmachari accusing the agency of torturing and illegally detaining him. The high court sought their replies by April 6. “How can you call a person who is not in your jurisdiction for interrogation? ,” the petitioner asked.

The Times of India, January 18, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

Aseemanand funded ’06 Malegaon bombings

Mateen Hafeez TNN

The confessional statement of Swami Aseemanand, alias Naba Kumar Sarkar, accused in the Mecca Masjid (Hyderabad) blast case, has opened a can of worms.

It says he paid Rs 25,000 to Ajmer blast suspect Sunil Joshi (who was murdered in December 2007 in Madhya Pradesh) prior to the 2006 Malegaon mosque blasts for buying material for the bomb.

Aseemanand (59), who was arrested on November 19 after a two-year CBI chase, told magistrate Deepak Dabas on December 18 that the Sankat Mochan temple blast in Kashi provoked his group into bombing mosques in retaliation; the decision was taken at a meeting attended by Joshi, Bharat Riteshwar, alias Bharat Bhai (the head of Sri Vivekananda Kendra Sansthan, Valsad, Gujarat), and Malegaon blast suspect Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, besides Aseemanand. The meeting was conducted at Bharat Bhai’s residence in Valsad.

“I told them that Muslims are 80% of Malegaon’s populaized Dange was taunting me because of my refusal.”

The blasts took place on September 8, 2006. The antiterrorism squad (ATS) arrested nine Muslim boys, saying they wanted to create “a riotlike situation in the state”. It later transpired that a hardline Hindutva group could have been behind the blasts.

The boys were booked under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA).

Upset with the ATS’s probe, Malegaon residents went on an agitation and even took up the issue with the Centre. The investigation was then handed over to the CBI, which said in court it had not found evidence against the boys.

In his chilling confessional, Aseemanand said: “In the (Valsad) meeting, I also suggested that... (since) a lot of Hindus visit the Ajmer shrine, we should carry out blast there so that Hindus get scared and stop going there. Moreover, I suggested that mostly Pakistanis travel in the Samjhauta Express, so it should also be bombed.”

The Times of India, January 10, 2011