SIT overcomes multiple pitfalls to nail murderers of RTI activist
The team took eight years to complete the job amidst standing up to bribery and false accusations
An eight-year-long path to justice saw four police officers with the Special Investigation Team (SIT) pitted against 12 people, including a former civic councillor, accused of murdering an RTI activist. For the SIT team, it was eight years of frustrating and painstaking investigation, and standing up to bribery and false accusations. But justice was finally served.
On October 29, the civil and sessions court found the 12 accused guilty of the murder of RTI activist Lingaraju and sentenced them to imprisonment.
On November 20, 2012, Lingaraju was hacked to death outside his house in Vittal Nagar in front of his wife and son by a group of armed assailants. “The victim had crossed paths with Govindaraju, the husband of the then Azad Nagar councillor Gowramma,” said a police official who was part of the investigation team.
Lingaraju had filed a complaint of disproportionate assets against Govindaraju following which the Lokayukta raided his house and booked him and Gowramma under the Prevention of Corruption Act. Documents pertaining to property worth over a hundred crores of rupees were seized.
Given the magnitude of the case, the High Court directed formation of an SIT team to probe the murder. It was headed by the then Joint Commissioner of Police Pranob Mohanty and included Abdul Ahad, the then SP (CID) along with Tilok Chandra, Deputy SP (CID), and Inspector Manoj, and Sadashivamurthy, former director of prosecution, who was the special public prosecutor in the team.
Hashmath Pasha, senior counsel, who was appointed amicus curiae, played a key role in keeping the High Court updated.
According to the police, Govindaraju had tried to bribe Lingaraju to withdraw the complaint, but when that failed he resorted to threats.
During the course of their investigation, the police learned that Govindaraju had paid a notorious habitual offender Chandru ₹7.5 lakh to eliminate Lingaraju. Chandru was incarcerated at the time but organised the murder from inside prison.
“When we started the investigation, we had to establish motive, the link to Govindaraju and the assailants. We started connecting the dots to take the case to the logical end,” said Ahad, who is currently SP, Anti Corruption Bureau.
Witnesses turn hostile
Key witnesses started turning hostile. Govindaraju, who had been arrested, had reportedly offered ₹8 crore to Lingaraju’s wife Umadevi. The SIT submitted evidence showing that around 50% of the amount had already been paid.
But the SIT, anticipating that the councillor and her husband would attempt to derail the investigation, got Umadevi to give her statement to the magistrate even before Govindaraju approached the family.
During the course of the trial, as many as 80 out of 103 witnesses turned hostile.
Govindaraju, citing health reasons, got himself transferred to Victoria hospital from where he directed operations to thwart the SIT, said a police officer. He got a woman to file a rape complaint against the special public prosecutor.
The Upparpet police, with help of the SIT, uncovered details of a meeting Govindaraju had with the woman while he was in prison. Owing to lack of evidence, the police concluded that the rape accusation was a false case.
“It was a challenge for the SIT to arrange security cover for all the witnesses till completion of the trial. The accused would send goons to the court to threaten them. They tried to bribe court officials,” said Ahad.
But the SIT’s determination paid off. “All 12 accused have been found guilty. It is a victory for justice and those who stood by us to get the verdict,” Ahad added.