, May 2 A court on Wednesday sentenced to life imprisonment mafia don Rajendra S. Nikhalje alias Chhota Rajan and eight others for the 2011 killing of veteran journalist J. Dey. Asked for his reaction, Chhota Rajan remarked: "Theek hai." (It's okay).
"This is the first time the mafia don has been convicted for life imprisonment in a major case like murder," Special Public Prosecutor Pradep Gharat told IANS. Last year, he was sentenced to seven years in jail for passport forgery.
The verdict was pronounced by Special Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) Court judge Sameer Adkar after hours of heated arguments between Gharat and defence lawyers after the criminals were held guilty in the morning.
The 56-year old Dey, a well-known crime reporter of Mumbai, worked as Editor (Investigations) with Mid-Day when he was gunned down on June 11, 2011 near his residence in suburban Powai.
He had authored two books: "Khallas: An A to Z Guide to the Underworld" and "Zero Dial: The Dangerous World of Informers" and was finalizing a third, "Chindi: Rags to Riches".
In the upcoming book, he had reportedly portrayed the mafia don as 'Chindi' (petty) criminal, which apparently irked Chhota Rajan.
"Dey was a journalist. He represented the fourth pillar of Democracy. This case should be considered as the 'rarest of rare'. A strong message needs to be sent out," argued Gharat while demanding capital punishment for the accused.
After the verdict, Special Judge Adkar turned to Chhota Rajan, 59, who was produced in a video-conference from Delhi's Tihar Central Jail, and said: "You will be spending your entire life in jail. Do you have anything to say?"
After a moment, without any visible emotion, the gangster replied softly: "Theek hai." (It's okay). The courtroom was packed.
After the verdict, former Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik, who had directed the case investigations, said: "I am feeling relieved."
Deported from Bali in Indonesia in November 2015 and subsequently made an accused in the case, Chhota Rajan had ordered the "hit" on Dey.
The Special Court has acquitted two co-accused, including former journalist Jigna Vora, who was accused of provoking the mafia don, and Joseph Paulson, charged with providing mobile SIM cards for executing the planned murder.
On hearing that she had been acquitted, Vora broke down as some people consoled her.
Another co-accused, Vinod Asrani alias Vinod Chembur, who was charged as the main co-conspirator and financier of the entire operation, died due to natural causes in April 2015 at a private hospital.
He had pointed out Dey to the gunmen at the scene of the crime.
The others sentenced to life term in jail are 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) and Deepak Sisodia, 28, of Dehradun, who supplied the weapons.
The investigations into the case, which shocked the media, were initially conducted by Mumbai Police. But as its ramifications deepened, it was taken over by the Crime Branch.
There was a sensational twist in the case when the police arrested Vora, then deputy bureau chief of The Asian Age in Mumbai, on November 25 that year.
In June 2015, the Special MCOCA ourt framed charges against the remaining 10 arrested-accused including Vora.
The case attained further significance after Chhota Rajan's arrest when the Central Bureau of Investigation took over the Dey murder probe and added him as an accused in a supplementary chargesheet filed before the Special Court.
During the probe, it emerged that Vora was allegedly in regular contact with Chhota Rajan and provoked him into eliminating Dey.
Three motorcycles and a Jeep were used to execute the Rs 500,000 contract killing for which Rs 200,000 was paid as advance and the balance to be paid later.
According to Gharat, three of the accused recorded their confessional statements pertaining to their role in the crime. A total of 155 witnesses were examined.