Four years on, charges yet to be framed in Gauri Lankesh case

Progress in M.M. Kalburgi murder case has also been tardy

Published - September 05, 2021 04:51 am IST - Bengaluru

Gauri Lankesh

Gauri Lankesh

Four years have passed since the assassination of activist-editor Gauri Lankesh on September 5, 2017, and nearly three years since the chargesheet was filed by the Special Investigation Team (SIT). However, the courts are yet to frame charges against the accused, not just in this case but also in the M.M. Kalburgi murder case where the chargesheet was filed two years ago.

The prosecution blames the COVID-19 pandemic and “delay tactics” deployed by the defence to prolong trial, an allegation the defence counsel has denied.

“In both cases, Hearing Before Charges (HBC) is ongoing in the respective courts and we are confident charges will be framed and trial will begin very soon,” said M.N. Anucheth, Chief Investigation Officer, SIT. Meanwhile, application of the Karnataka Control of Organised Crimes Act (KCOCA), 2000, to all the accused in the Gauri Lankesh murder case hinges on the Supreme Court order, expected on September 8.

The Karnataka High Court had in April, 2021, quashed KCOCA 2000 charges against one of the accused Mohan Naik saying the Act can be applied only against those accused with two or more cases against them previously.

Gauri’s sister Kavita Lankesh approached the apex court challenging the High Court order, following which the State government also challenged the order.

“If the application of KCOCA, 2000, is not upheld, there is a very real fear of the accused walking out of prison on bail,” Ms. Kavita said. “It has been four years since she [Gauri Lankesh] was killed, it feels like yesterday and the sense of loss never goes away. The trial has been inordinately delayed and I hope it is speeded up, to ensure her justice” she said.

Meanwhile, trial began in the Prof. K.S. Bhagawan murder plot case — uncovered during the probe into Gauri Lankesh’s murder — but was put on hold as the defence raised objection to the jurisdiction of the trial court. Six months later, the High Court ordered the trial to continue. “After six witnesses were examined, the defence suddenly raised an objection on the jurisdiction of the trial court. They refused to cross-examine any of the witnesses,” a senior SIT official said. “The defence advocates have been deploying delay tactics, filing several petitions on frivolous grounds to delay the trial. Most of their petitions have been dismissed till date,” alleged S. Balan, Special Public Prosecutor in the Gauri Lankesh murder case.

However, Veerendra Ichalkarnjikar, a leading defence counsel for the accused in all the three cases, vehemently denied allegations that they were employing delay tactics. He in turn alleged the prosecution had blocked access to key documents causing delay. “We have filed bail applications and challenged the application of KCOCA, 2000, and won the case in the Karnataka High Court. We cannot be faulted on exploring all legal remedies on behalf of the accused,” he said.

Mr. Ichalkaranjikar is an office-bearer of Hindu Vidhdnya Parishat, an affiliate of Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, to which multiple accused in the three cases were allegedly associated with.

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