Bombay HC rejects anticipatory bail plea of RTI activist, accomplice in extortion case

The Bombay high court on Friday rejected anticipatory bail applications of two Pune residents, including RTI activist Ravindra Barahate, accused of conniving with a dancer to extort money from a 64-year-old builder.

Barahate and his alleged accomplice Amol Chavan had moved HC after being booked by Kothrud police in Pune, on the basis of a complaint lodged by the builder Sudhir Karnataki.

Karnataki in his complaint alleged that he was introduced to the dancer, 34-year-old Dipti Aher in 2007 during the wedding reception of his nephew. A friendship developed between them and he started attending her dance programmes in Pune.

In November 2013, on the dancer’s request, Karnataki arranged a three-bedroom flat at Bavdhan for her family on rent and two years later purchased it showing Aher a co-owner. However, from last year Dipti started threatening the builder

Karnataki alleged that from 2019, the dancer started threatening to implicate him in a false rape case and started extorting money from him. He said in November 2019 she visited his office and demanded Rs. 6 lakh and also full ownership of the flat at Bavdhan.

The builder also alleged that he was coerced into transferring full ownership of the flat to the dancer and also pay her primarily because of her accomplices – RTI activist Ravindra Barahate, extortionist Amol Chavan, a director of a well-known newspaper from western Maharashtra, and a suspended policeman. He alleged Barahate was the brain behind the extortion.

Karnataki alleged that on December 26, 2019, when he was about to leave a mall after shopping, Aher and Chavan accosted him and demanded an additional sum of Rs 2 crore and the transfer of a plot that he owned in Pune in the dancer’s name. He was, thereafter, made to call different people, who too terrorised him and asked him to fulfil Aher’s demands.

The builder eventually approached police and lodged a complaint after he had been booked on the basis of complaint of rape lodged by the dancer.

Apprehending arrest in connection with the crime, Barahate and Chavan had moved HC, primarily on the ground that the FIR did not attribute any active role to the applicants. Barahate also claimed that he was falsely implicated, as being a RTI activist he had exposed many wrongdoings.

Additional public prosecutor Mankuwar Deshmukh opposed the plea and pointed out to the court that Barahate has amassed illegal wealth to the tune of Rs. 2,760 crore.

“The nature and the gravity of the accusation, as can be seen, is quite serious,” said justice Prithviraj Chavan while rejecting both applications for pre-arrest bail.

According to the prosecution, Barahte runs a ‘land mafia’ and is the prime accused in many of the cases registered against him in Pune.

“Prima facie, it is demonstrated that he (Barahate) has been the brain behind drafting a false complaint of rape against Sudhir,” said justice Chavan after perusing statements of several witnesses in the case. “The said report, it seems, is nothing but a calumny,” the judge said.

The judge said antecedents of the applicants speak for themselves and need no further elaboration.

“Although nothing is placed on record as to whether the applicant had suffered any conviction or imprisonment, yet the material on record is quite sufficient to refuse the pre-arrest bail to the applicants. From the entire material on record, it is difficult to infer that false accusations have been made against the applicants with an object of injuring or humiliating them,” said HC.

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