Rejecting bail plea of artist Chintan Upadhyay who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for abetting and conspiring to kill his estranged wife Hema Upadhyay in December 2015, the Bombay High Court has said that the confessional statement relied upon by the trial judge was proved by witnesses and corroborated by circumstantial evidence.
A division bench of Justices Revati Mohite-Dere and Gauri Godse rejected Upadhyay’s bail plea on December 11. However, a detailed order copy was made available recently.
Tragic double homicide
Hema and her lawyer Harish Bhambani were allegedly smothered to death by Vidhyadhar Rajbhar on December 11, 2015, with the help of other accused persons. He killed the duo allegedly at Upadhyay’s behest. The next day, a rubbish collector discovered their bodies stuffed in cardboard boxes in a nullah in Kandivali.
On October 7, Sessions judge SY Bhosale found Upadhyay guilty of abetting and conspiring to kill Hema and sentenced him to life in prison observing that the murder was “brutal”, but it cannot be termed as “rarest of rare” which warrants a “death penalty only”.
Upadhyay then approached the HC challenging his conviction and sought bail pending hearing in his appeal. He also sought suspension of his sentence.
His lawyers, senior advocate Amit Desai and advocate Bharat Manghani, argued that Upadhyay was convicted only on the basis of the confession recorded of co-accused Pradeep Rajbhar, which was subsequently retracted. Apart from the said evidence, there is no other material to connect Upadhyay with the alleged offence.
Desai also pointed out that Upadhyay was granted bail by the Apex Court, pending trial, having regard to his incarceration for five years.
State advocates oppose bail as court scrutinises evidence
State advocate Jayesh Yagnik and advocate Anil Lalla, appearing for Bhambhani’s family, opposed the bail saying that Pradeep Rajbhar never retracted his confessional statement. Yagnik argued that Pradeep’s statement was proved by the prosecution and corroborated by other circumstances on record. Besides, the apex court had not granted him bail on merit, but due to long incarceration for about five years and since about 12 witnesses were yet left to be examined.
The bench noted that Pradeep’s confessional statement was sufficiently proved by the evidence. It also took note of the fact that CCTV footage of December 11, 2015 showing Hema and advocate Bhambani entering the premises behind co-accused Vidyadhar (who is absconding) at around 8:55 p.m and the next days footage showing co-accused Pradeep Rajbhar, Vidyadhar Rajbhar and Vijay Rajbhar loading two big cardboard boxes in a tempo at 12:15 a.m.
“The dead bodies were found in the cardboard boxes, which were dumped in the Nullah,” the bench noted.
“Considering the overall evidence on record, this is not a fit case to enlarge the applicant on bail. Hence, application is rejected,” the bench said while rejecting his bail plea.
Sessions judge found three others – Vijay Rajbhar, Pradip Rajbhar and Shiv Kumar Rajbhar, who hail from the same village – guilty of murdering Hema and her lawyer Harish Bhambhani and sentenced them to life imprisonment.