Judge changed in Nanded blast case on the day of Yashwant Shinde’s second hearing

Yashwant Shinde in front of the Nanded district court, on 22 September 2022. SAGAR FOR THE CARAVAN
05 November, 2022

On 4 November, a district court judge, who had been adjudicating trial proceedings in the 2006 Nanded blast case since May, informed the parties involved that the case had been transferred to another judge, with the next hearing postponed to 13 December. The parties to the case are Manoj Chaladan, the public prosecutor of the Central Bureau of Investigation; Yashwant Shinde, a former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak seeking his own impleadment as a witness in the case; and five men accused in the blast, represented by their lawyer Ramesh Govind Paradkar. All three parties had gathered in the court on 4 November expecting an argument over Shinde’s application, which was filed alongside a sworn affidavit claiming that he was trained in bomb-making alongside the accused.

I previously reported for The Caravan on the contents of Shinde’s application and his claims of being a witness to a conspiracy by Hindu fundamentalist groups that led to several bomb blasts across the country during the mid-2000s. Shinde claims that Milind Parande, who is currently the secretary general of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, was the mastermind of the blasts and that the bomb-making training he attended had been organised by Parande. He has asked for Parande to be added as an accused in the Nanded blast case.

In the previous hearing, on 22 September, the CBI and the lawyer of the accused, in a written submission, had opposed Shinde’s application to be added as a witness on the grounds that he was absent from the case for 16 years and that he was neither a complainant nor an accused in it. In his last order in the case, AR Dhamecha, the extra joint district judge before whom the hearings happened so far, said he would allow Shinde to argue the CBI’s dismissal of his testimony and their opposition to add Milind Parande as an accused in the case.

Shinde had also filed applications with the court to allow him access to the chargesheet and supplementary chargesheet filed by the Maharashtra Police’s Anti Terrorism Squad in 2006, a supplementary report filed by the CBI in 2008, a supplementary chargesheet filed by the CBI in 2009, a copy of the First Information Report and closure report filed by CBI in 2020, statements of witnesses, spot panchnamas and a copy of the narco-analysis test results of Rahul Pande and Sanjay Chaudhari, two accused in the case. Shinde’s lawyer, Sangmeshwar Delmade, told me they had not yet been given access to any of these documents and were hoping to argue for access to them on the hearing that was scheduled yesterday. “We can’t argue against CBI’s written submission until we know what has been investigated so far,” Delmade said.

The Nanded blast case involves an explosion at the house of Laxman Gundayya Rajkondwar on 5 April 2006. The blast killed his son, Naresh Rajkondwar, and his son’s friend, Himanshu Panse. The police soon discovered that it was an accidental explosion and that Rajkondawar’s home was being used to make bombs. Early in its investigation, the Maharashtra ATS accused seven men in the case and added four more later. The investigation also revealed that the men were earlier involved in bomb blasts at mosques in Jalna, Purna and Parbhani in 2003 and 2004.

The CBI, in its response filed on 22 September this year, called the incident a “terrorist act” which was “financed” and masterminded by one “Prof Dev.” The CBI submitted that they had been unable to find Deo and so, had filed a closure report in the case on 31 December 2020. Shinde named Milind Parande, Parande’s associate Rakesh Dhawade and one Ravi Dev as the main conspirators of all the bomb blasts in Jalna, Purna and Parbhani. He also told me that “Prof Dev” and Ravi Dev were the same person and also gave an extensive description of Dev in both his affidavit and in an interview to The Caravan that could help the CBI in tracking him.

As soon as the court was in session on 4 November, Dhamecha said that the case had been transferred to another judge and, after discussion with all parties, said that the next hearing would be on 13 December. One of the accused, Umesh Deshpande, applied for the renewal of his passport. Deshpande is a popular orthopaedic surgeon in the city and is facing the charge of destroying evidence in the case. Chaladan told the court that the CBI had no objection to a renewal for one year. The judge refrained from passing any order since the case had already been transferred.

The argument on Shinde’s application will be taken up in the next hearing in the court of CV Marathe, a district judge. Marathe had been working in a Mumbai district court and joined the Nanded court in June. Dhamecha was a retired judge who had been granted an extension.

According to Paradkar, the lawyer of the accused, the case was transferred on an “administrative ground.” He said, “Nobody has submitted a transfer petition. But the concerned judicial officer withdrew the matter from this court [and sent it] to the other court,” he said, referring to Dhamecha’s and Marathe’s courts respectively. Paradkar said he had no say in the administrative orders of the court and there was no question of making any “objection” for any party against it. Chaladan, the CBI’s lawyer, elaborated. He said that the principal district judge, the administrative head of the judicial department in a district, was responsible for the decision. “The PDJ decides where [a case is] to be transferred and whether it has to be transferred or not,” he told me. “That is up to the PDJ. That is the power of the PDJ. We cannot interfere.” Chaladan also said he cannot “challenge” the transfer since it was an “administrative order.” Shinde told me he did not mind the transfer of the case but said that if his application was rejected in the next hearing, he would approach higher courts.

A staffer attached with the office of the registrar of the court told me that a majority of cases are transferred only after one of the parties files an application requesting it, on personal grounds. The staffer said that cases are transferred on administrative grounds only sometimes. The transfer on administrative grounds is a discretionary power in the hands of the PDJ and there are no set rules for the PDJ to follow before enacting this.

On the afternoon of 4 November, I went to speak to NV Nhavkar, the Nanded court’s PDJ. Nhavkar’s court was not in session but his assistants were still working. I requested them for a meeting with the PDJ to better understand the reason behind the transfer of the case. One of the assistants instead asked me to meet the superintendent of the administrative department of the court. The superintendent refused to speak on the matter and asked me to meet the registrar of the court. Anil Kulkarni, the registrar, told me that “there was nothing to explain” if the case was transferred on administrative grounds. I asked him if he could confirm that the case was indeed transferred on administrative grounds and not based on an application by one of the parties. Kulkarni told me that the file was “in transit.” He said, “The reason for transfer of the case is written on the file. I don’t have it yet.”

I asked Chaladan, the CBI’s lawyer, why he would not be interested in Shinde’s revelations. He repeated the technical grounds filed in his submission before the court earlier. “Once the trial commences, power of the court is not there, only the police can do further investigation on getting new material,” he said. “This is a legal position.” Contrary to Chaladan’s claim, I had earlier spoken to two criminal lawyers, one arguing at the Supreme Court and the other at a Delhi district court, who said that the court was well within its rights to order a fresh investigation based on Shinde’s new affidavit.

On 4 November, Paradkar also filed the death certificate of Rahul Pande—one of the accused—before the court, stating that he had died of cancer recently. Another accused, Laxman Rajkondwar, is also dead. On my recent visit to his home, Laxman’s younger son told me that his father died of COVID-19 in 2020. The five accused who appeared before the court are out on bail. This includes Milind Ektate, a former president of Nanded’s bar association. Ektate, like Deshpande, is facing charges of destroying evidence. The other three accused who appeared in court on 4 November refused to give me their names.