Ahmedabad: In a major breakthrough, self-styled godman Asaram Bapu's alleged henchman, suspected to have shot dead three key witnesses in rape cases filed against the religious leader, has been arrested by Anti-Terrorism Squad of Gujarat.
Kartik Haldar was arrested from Raipur in Chhatisgarh yesterday in a joint operation by ATS and Crime Branch unit of city police and brought here today, a senior official said.
Besides murdering the three witnesses, Haldar had also attempted to kill four other persons who were directly or indirectly associated with the rape cases filed against the jailed religious leader in Jodhpur and Ahmedabad, said J K Bhatt, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime Branch) and in-charge IG of ATS.
During interrogation, Haldar told officials he had been instructed by other 'sadhaks' (followers) of Asaram to kill these witnesses so as to weaken the cases against the controversial preacher, ATS said in a statement.
Haldar, a sharp shooter and henchman of the self-styled godman, also told the police he was funded by some of the sadhaks of Asaram's ashrams located in various parts of the country, it stated.
He was allegedly involved in the killings of Asaram's personal doctor Amrut Prajapati in June 2014, his assistant-cum-cook Akhil Gupta in January 2015 and another key witness, Kripal Singh, in July 2015 in different parts of the country, said the release.
All of them were shot from close range as part of a conspiracy to eliminate those who had given their testimonies against Asaram, ATS said.
Prajapati, an Ayurvedic doctor, was shot dead by Haldar at his dispensary in Rajkot. The doctor was vocal about Asaram's misdeeds and also became a witness in the rape case, filed by one of the two victim sisters here three years back.
Gupta became a witness in the same case in 2013. He was fatally shot by the accused near his house in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh. The probe in this case was handed over to CBI.
The sharp shooter then targeted Singh, who was killed in Shahjahanpur, UP. Singh used to work as a clerk in the office of a transporter whose minor daughter had lodged a case of sexual assault against Asaram in Jodhpur. Singh was the prime witness in that case, said the release.
Apart from these killings, Haldar was also involved in four cases of attempt to murder, including firing on Asaram's former personal assistant Mahendra Chawla in June last year at Panipat in Haryana.
Among other attacks, Haldar fired eight rounds on the warden of Asaram's Chhindwada-based ashram Omprakash Prajapati and his wife Seema, stated the release.
To execute his sinister plans, Haldar had acquired 10 country-made pistols and 94 cartridges from various arms dealers in Jharkhand and UP, it said.
Halda, a native of South 24 Pargana district in West Bengal, first came in contact with Asaram's preachings in 2000 when he attended his religious discourse in New Delhi.
A year later, he left his household responsibilities and became a full-time sadhak and started living at Asaram's ashram at Motera near Ahmedabad, added the release.