INDIA. Mumbai: Gangster Rajendra Sadashiv Nikalje alias Chhota Rajan (62) was acquitted by a special CBI Court in the Union Leader Dr. Datta Samant Murder Case, due to a lack of sufficient evidence, on Friday.
Delivering the judgement, CBI Special Judge A. M. Patil stated that nothing was produced to prove that Rajan hatched the conspiracy to kill Samant. The material witnesses have turned hostile. A total of 22 witnesses were examined, of whom eight turned hostile. They do not support the prosecution’s case. The testimony of other accused is not sufficient to prove the charge against the accused, he added.
However, despite his acquittal, Rajan is unlikely to be released since he is facing as many as 70 criminal cases pertaining to extortion and murder in Mumbai.
Samant, who led the longest-ever strike by textile mill workers’ in Mumbai in 1981, was killed by motorbike-borne assailants, while he was commuting from Powai to his office at Pant Nagar, Ghatkopar, in north-east Mumbai, on January 16, 1997. The assailants had opened fire with 17 rounds of ammunition.
Soon after the incident, Samant was shifted to Aniket Nursing Home, but was declared dead before admission. A case was registered against four unidentified assailants with Saki Naka Police based on a complaint filed by Samant’s driver, Bhimrao Sonkamble. Samant’s murder had created a furore in trade union and political circles.
In the first phase of the trial, the judgement was pronounced in July 2000, and nine people were convicted. Of these, Ganpat Bamne, Vijay Thopte, and Arun Londhe were given life imprisonment by the Mumbai Sessions Court. While one died subsequently, the Bombay High Court in 2010 upheld the life imprisonment awarded to the two convicted shooters.
Rajan was named as a wanted accused in the case, in which trusted lieutenant Rohit Verma and gangster Guru Satam were also identified as absconding accused, leading to their separate trials. Guru Satam remains the wanted accused in the case.
Rajan was arrested on October 26, 2015, in Bali (Indonesia) and was extradited to India on November 6, 2015. After that, the CBI took over all the cases registered against him. The Datta Samant murder trial against him began in August 2021. Rajan was also convicted on May 2, 2018 of the murder of a journalist and handed life imprisonment.
The gangster, who is currently lodged in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, had said in his defence that he was in Dubai from 1986 to 1993, after which he left the place. He had submitted that, for reasons not known to him, he was falsely implicated in multiple cases, including this one.