A Special Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) court has convicted Rajendra S Nikhalje alias Chhota Rajan and seven others complicit in the seven-year-old assassination case of a veteran crime journalist Jyotirmoy Dey.
The prosecution had demanded “maximum possible punishment” but the court handed life imprisonment for the convicts. The court, however, acquitted accused scribes Jigna Vora and Joseph Paulson due to lack of evidence. Jigna Vora, reportedly, broke down at the court after acquittal. Special judge, on April 3rd, fixed May 2nd for the reading of the verdict. Chhota Rajan is currently in Tihar Jail, New Delhi. The final proceedings in the case had started in February and concluded last month.
On June 11, 2011, then 56, Jyotirmoy Dey, the Editor (Investigations) of Midday Eveninger, while on his motorcycle, was shot on his back multiple times near his residence in Powai, Mumbai. Initial investigations were carried out by the Mumbai police but later the case was shifted to Crime Branch.
The police arrested Chhota Rajan’s seven sharpshooters on June 27, viz Rohit Thangappan Joseph alias Satish Kalya (28), Abhijeet Kasharam Shinde (27); Arun Janardhan Dake (27), Sachin Suresh Gaikwad (35), Anil Bhanudas Waghmode (35), Nilesh Narayan Shendge alias Bablu (34), Mangesh Damodar Agawane (25), all who conducted recce and / or were shooters. After questioning the police arrested three more – weapon supplier Deepak Sisodia (28) of Dehradun, Joseph Paulson (43) & Vinod Asrani alias Vinod Chembur (later dead), allegedly the main co-conspirator and financier.
Chhota Rajan, on July 11, 2011, reportedly called up news channels informing about the allegations against him. On November 25, 2011, the then Deputy Bureau Chief of The Asian Age, Mumbai, Jigna Vora, was arrested for allegedly supplying the license plate number and address of the murdered journalist J Dey, as he was better known. She was accused of being in regular contact with Chhota Rajan and of provoking him to eliminate J Day. Vinod Asrani alias Vinod Chembur died of natural causes three years ago at a private hospital on April 10, 2015. He had reportedly ‘pointed out’ J Dey on the day of his murder.
The crime branch filed its first charge sheet, running three volumes and 3055 pages, on December 3, 2011, which implicated Chhota Rajan. Jigna Vora was named but her role wasn’t mentioned though she had been arrested. Rajan and Nayan Singh Bisht, his aide, were shown as absconding.
The first part mentions formal evidence – panchanama records, ballistics, forensics etc. The second part contains witness statements and confessions of 176 witnesses. Some have been recorded under section 164 of Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). The third part, the largest, contains mobile phone records, about 1600 seconds in duration from 16 phone calls, which, being technical in nature carry much importance.
The police did not ascribe any motive to the crime but referred to the two articles – “Did Rajan plan hit on Kaskar?” and “Rajan gangsters off to ‘pilgrimages'”, written by J Dey that ‘hurt’ Chhota Rajan.
On February 21, 2012, filed the supplementary charge sheet, nearly 1000 pages, in the case which alleged the role played by Jigna Vora. She was charged under MCOCA, Arms Act and the Bombay Police Act at the sessions court in Mumbai. She was granted bail on July 27, 2012, and was released a fortnight later.
On June 8, 2015, the case was framed against the eleven accused alive under 120(b) (criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder) and 34 (common intention) of Indian Penal Code (IPC) along with relevant provisions of the MCOCA and the Arms Act.
The case was transferred to CBI on January 5, 2016, which filed a supplementary charge sheet in August 2016 after the Special MCOCA court Judge S S Adkar fixed August 5 as the deadline, declaring that it would go by the earlier charge sheet filed by the Mumbai Police’s Crime Branch if CBI breaches the deadline.
According to investigations, it was Chhota Rajan who ordered the murder of the veteran journalist. He was arrested and deported from Bali, Indonesia on October 25, 2016, and made accused in the case via a supplementary charge sheet. The investigators found out that a total of Rs. 5 lakh was paid for the job including Rs. 2 lakh as advance payment. A total of 155 witnesses were examined during the probe and three accused, Paulson Joseph, Deepak Sisodia and Arun Dake had recorded their confessions in the crime as per Special Public Prosecutor Pradip Gharat. He further informed that Chhota Rajan’s statements were recorded over video conferencing from Tihar Jail.
Dey had written, among many reports on Mumbai underworld, two books during his careers as crime journalist – “Khallas: An A to Z Guide to the Underworld” and “Zero Dial: The Dangerous World of Informers”. He was midway his third book “Chindi: Rags to Riches” which was the collection of stories of 20 gangsters. Reportedly, the colloquial word ‘Chindi’, meaning petty, irked Chhota Rajan. As per charge sheet, Rajan believed that J Dey was working at the behest of his erstwhile boss underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and ISI.