CASE STUDY 9
DK RAO, Alleged Chhota Rajan gangster
GOOGLE DK Rao, and you will find copious newsprint linking him to the absconding Mumbai underworld gangster Rajendra Nikalje, better known as Chhota Rajan. Rao’s story is complicated. He was badly wounded in a shootout in 1998 and was brought to hospital in a critical condition. He survived.
Hailing from Karnataka, Rao’s real name is Ravi Mallesh Vora. The story is that the police found in his pocket a business card giving his name as DK Rao. It stuck.
Rao was sent to jail and made an accused in the case arising out of the shootout. Eleven years passed. He spent all of them in central Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail. Yet, while being a jailbird, Rao managed to get himself accused in numerous other cases.
Beginning in 1994, police filed more than 25 cases against Rao, for crimes that range from armed robbery to murder. He has even had cases registered against him in far away Goa. Since then, Rao has been acquitted in most cases. But never could he get out of jail, until his luck changed for the better last year — under MCOCA.
DK Rao was caught in a shootout in 1998 and brought to hospital . He spent 11 years in jail until being released on bail in October 2009
Rao has had more than 25 cases against him. He was accused under MCOCA of plotting the murder of a BJP leader. He has been acquitted
In another MCOCA case, he was accused of loaning his phone to other gang members. He has been given bail and released
For a murder in 1998, Rao was sentenced to serve a decade in jail. Bail was denied. But in four years, the Mumbai High Court pronounced him not guilty. By then, however, he was implicated in the murder of a lackey of India’s most wanted mafia don, Dawood Ibrahim. The Dawood aide was killed in the jail of Maharashtra’s Nasik city. Police said Rao was running his gang from inside the Mumbai jail. It will take several years for Rao to get bail in the murder of the Dawood aide.
But by then, Rao had been made accused in another murder case. In 2003, gunmen shot and killed a BJP corporator of Pune Municipal Corporation as he sat in his car at a busy city intersection, waiting for the lights to turn green. Police said another man who was eyeing the lottery business of this corporator, Satish Misal, paid Rao Rs 1.6 lakh to organise Misal’s killing. The prosecution’s case was based on the testimony of Misal’s driver, who, too, was shot and badly wounded, yet drove to the house of one of Misal’s friends.
This is where the politics around MCOCA began. Misal’s brother, Deepak Misal alias Baba, also a corporator, was soon arrested for the killing of a man. Police said Baba had ordered that man killed because he thought the latter was responsible for Satish’s murder. Police slapped MCOCA charges on Baba. Incensed, his lawyers petitioned the court, arguing that if Baba is prosecuted under MCOCA, then why should DK Rao and the others accused of the killing of Satish Misal be tried merely under the Indian Penal Code (IPC)? So a year after Satish Misal was murdered, police booked DK Rao and others under MCOCA.
Obviously, this was challengeable. Defence lawyers asked in the court exactly why the prosecution took so long to bring the case under MCOCA. The judge threw out the MCOCA charges and ruled that the accused be tried under the regular IPC.
Seven years after Misal’s murder, a Pune city judge acquitted all the accused, including DK Rao, in January 2009. The prosecution had based its case on the fact that Misal’s driver identified two of the accused that police said had emptied their guns. But, noted the judge, the driver was “conspicuously silent” if those were the men who fired. “He [the driver] has nowhere stated that [the] accused… had fired those shots,” the judge’s order said. Worse was to follow. In court, Misal’s driver claimed that he identified the shooters at “the police’s say-so”. Wrote the judge: “Whatever identification of the accused he has made… is totally washed out.
“Except [the driver], the only eyewitness examined by the prosecution, there is absolutely no other evidence led by the prosecution though several persons must have witnessed the incident,” Pune judge SS Phansalkar Joshi wrote, freeing the accused. “The prosecution has also not brought any sort of corroborative evidence like recovery of any incriminating articles, namely, weapon of assault, at the instance of the accused or from their custody.”
ALTHOUGH ACQUITTED, Rao would still be in jail for another ten months. By now, he had been made an accused under MCOCA in yet another case. Police said he had loaned his mobile phones to several other alleged gangsters belonging to Chhota Rajan’s gang, who had been arrested in an alleged case of extortion. (One of the accused in this case is Fareed Tanashah, who TEHELKA profiled last week.)
Rao’s lawyers argued that there was no evidence to connect him to this allegation. In any case, he was not a principal accused in the case, for he hadn’t made any of the extortion calls that the prosecution was alleging. Rao got bail. On October 17, 2009, he walked out of jail, 11 years after his arrest.
“I can say that 90 percent of the MCOCA cases are wrongly constituted,” says Rao’s lawyer, Mahesh Mule. After his release, Rao turned a recluse. Until, that is, Christmas last month when television news channels aired a video of a party that Rao allegedly threw at a gymkhana where some Mumbai Police officers danced away. The police say that they will inquire into the incident.
The truth is that after 11 years of holding him, including in several MCOCA cases, the police have yet to prove the charge that DK Rao is an underworld operative.