Mumbai: Eight years after the double murders of artist Hema Upadhyay and her lawyer Harish Bhambhani, a sessions court is expected to deliver judgment in the case today. According to the prosecution, the duo was allegedly smothered to death by Vidhyadhar Rajbhar and other four accused on December 11, 2015, at the behest of Hema's estranged husband Chintan Upadhyay.
The next day, a garbage collector discovered their bodies stuffed in cardboard boxes in a nullah in Kandivali. Chintan was arrested on December 22, 2015. Other accused to be arrested are Shiv Kumar Rajbhar, Pradip Kumar Rajbhar, Vijay Kumar Rajbhar and Azad Rajbhar. Vidhyadhar, who allegedly executed the murders, is still untraceable. Chintan was granted bail by the Supreme Court in 2021.
Public prosecutor: Husband was “pioneer of the conspiracy”
Public prosecutor Vaibhav Bagade had argued that Hema had not been on good terms with her husband, who was the alleged “pioneer of the conspiracy” of the murders. Owing to a divorce battle, he was driven by “hatred” towards Hema and her lawyer and this pushed Chintan to take extreme steps, added the prosecution.
To corroborate the 'hatred' contention, Bagade also claimed that Hema had found a painting of a woman resembling her in the husband's bedroom, with the caption, “I will destroy you”. The prosecution has also relied on a confessional statement made against Chintan by Pradeep, which is backed with several pieces of evidence, including call data records. The latter, who was arrested on March 8, 2016, gave his confessional statement before a metropolitan magistrate, alleging that Chintan had promised them money in lieu of the murders.
However, defence counsel Raja Thakare contended that the police were unable to crack the double murder hence they implicated his client, taking advantage of the matrimonial dispute.
Averring that all the evidence was fabricated, he pointed out that the divorce proceedings were being heard at the Bombay High Court and that Chintan had paid Rs16 lakh to Hema as per a family court's order.
With regard to Pradeep's confession, Thakare had submitted that the co-accused had retracted his statement. The prosecution, however, pointed out that Pradeep himself has not given any letter to the court, retracting the statement.
A total of 56 witnesses and crucial evidence, including CCTV footage, and Chintan's diaries and paintings, have been examined in the case.
December 11, 2015: Duo is murdered
Next day: Their bodies found in Kandivali nullah
December 22, 2015: Chintan is arrested
March 8, 2016: One of the co-accused is caught
Three months later: He gives confessional statement against Chintan
Subsequently, retracts his statement; a point of contention between prosecution, defence
2021: Artist is granted bail by the Supreme Court