Friday, October 12, 2012
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HC order for CBI inquiry has rekindled hope for justice

Khamba is a small village on the edge of Amreli district in the south east region of Gujarat. Proximity to the coastline and world famous Gir forest in neighbouring Junagarh district underscores the need for environment protection of the region.

However, presence of minerals, especially limestone, in hills of the area attracts illegal miners thus leading to a tussle between those willing to protect nature and those wanting to make money out of it. Murder of 34-year-old Amit Jethwa on July 20, 2010, was a result of this clash of interests.

It is one of the most high profile cases involving RTI activists as Jethwa was shot dead right outside the High Court premises in Ahmedabad persumably in response to the public interest litigation (PIL) he had filed against  sitting BJP MP Dinu Bogha Solanki accusing him of illegal mining. With the CBI recently registering a case in this connection, the long pending demand of Jethwa's family and friends for an independent probe has been met. The Gujarat Police had earlier given a clean chit to the MP and only arrested his nephew Shiva Solanki along with a few others. However, in its order on September 25, the Gujarat High Court criticised the state police investigations and handed over the case to CBI.

The Gujarat Police had earlier given a clean chit to the MP and only arrested his nephew Shiva Solanki along with a few others. However, in its order on September 25, the Gujarat High Court criticised the state police investigations and handed over the case to CBI.

Jethwa was born in Khamba village and took up issues of environmental law and wildlife protection issues around Gir Sanctuary along with the community. Jethwa had also spearheaded a campaign against rising case pendency in the Gujarat Information Commission due to lack of commissioners. “It was in response to his petition filed in November 2009 that the state government appointed two new information commissioners. He also filed a writ petition in the HC and made the government accept Indian Postal Order (IPO) as one of the modes of payment to deposit fees for filing of RTI applications,” says his father Bhikhabhai. However, it was his PIL against illegal mining that became the reason behind the murderous attack since many mining companies in the region were sent notices and penalties were slapped on them.

Since 2008, Jethwa had filed six requests under the RTI Act, asking information related to the activities of an illegal mining lobby operating in the protected forest area just outside Gir forest. On June 28, 2010, he filed a PIL in the Gujarat High Court citing evidence found and praying to stop illegal mining within five kilometers radius from the boundary of Gir. In the same month, a raid was conducted by the police and geology departments, and a number of mining equipment were seized. However, the equipment was subsequently stolen back. Jethwa appealed that the matter be investigated by an independent ombudsman or Lokayukta, a constitutional position that had been lying vacant in Gujarat since 2003. He had moved court to seek a judicial order to the state government to fill this post.

Jethwa had filed six requests under the RTI Act, asking information related to the activities of an illegal mining lobby operating in the protected forest area just outside Gir forest. On June 28, 2010, he filed a PIL in the Gujarat High Court praying to stop illegal mining

The petition came up for hearing on July 6, 2010, and Amit Jethva filed a supplementary affidavit. He gave additional details regarding illegal mining and impleaded BJP MP Dinubhai Boghabhai Solanki and his nephew Pratap Alias Shiva Hamirbhai Solanki as respondent Nos. 9 and 10 in the said writ petition. The court issued notice to the newly impleaded parties. Categorical allegations had also been made against the Solankis in paragraph 2.29 at page 16 of the said writ petition with the details of their illegal activities of mining and stone crushing within five kilometers radius from the boundary of Gir Sanctuary.

However, Amit Jethwa was shot dead before the next date of hearing. His family members and friends allege that Jethwa was murdered on the behest of the MP and the state government is trying to shield him. The investigations into the murder were transferred from Sola Police Station in Ahmedabad to the Crime Branch in August 2010. The police arrested constable Bahadursinh Dhirubhai Vadher, Sanjay Chauhan, Udaji Thakor and Pachan Shiva who was allegedly one of the hired killers. On September 6 , 2010, they arrested Pratap alias Shiva Hamirbhai Solanki, nephew of Dinu Solanki. In November 2010, Mumbai police arrested Shailesh Pandya, who allegedly fired the shot.

In February 2012, the Gujarat Police Crime Branch gave a clean chit to Dinu Solanki in the case claiming that Bahadursinh Dhirubhai Vadher conspired with Pratap alias Shiva Hamirbhai Solanki to eliminate Jethwa. The report says that Bahadur and one of his brothers had bought some land in the area in 2007 for mining purposes but due to Jethwa’s interventions against illegal mining, they suffered financial losses which is why they planned the attack. However, Jethwa’s lawyers submitted that the Gujarat government had prohibited mining within five kilometer periphery of Gir wild life sanctuary through a circular dated August 9, 2002, so there was no question of Bahadur and his brother purchasing the land for mining purposes in the area.

“No proper investigations were made into Dinu Bogha Solanki’s movements, his telephone records and conversations with other accused. Amit had met me a day before the murder expressing serious apprehension about threat to his life from the MP,” says Anandbhai Yagnik, Jethwa's friend and lawyer, who also submitted this statement to policy.

No proper investigations were made by the police into main accused, MP Dinu Bogha Solanki’s movements, his telephone records and conversations with other accused.

Dilipbhai Jinabhai Katariya, a colleague of Amit Jethwa in his NGO Gir Nature Youth Club, also claimed that Jethwa had been receiving threats from the MP for quite some time. “During 2007 legislative assembly election, Jethwa unsuccessfully contested election against Solanki. During campaigning, Solanki had allegedly threatened him with dire consequences if he did not withdraw his nomination. This was reported by Jethwa to the election officers. The threats continued when he started filing RTI applications to get information related to illegal mining,” Katariya says. He has also submitted an affidavit in the court stating that a few days before his murder, Jethwa had told him that the threats from Dinu Solanki had increased particularly after filing of the PIL against illegal mining and the whole team needed to be careful.

Dilip also alleged that when he gave this statement to the police team investigating into the murder case, it was manipulated to convey that only he was threatened by Dinu Bogha Solanki in 2007.  On September 25, 2012, the Gujarat High Court transferred the case to CBI observing that “Investigation into the murder of petitioner’s (Bhikha Jethwa) son does not appear to have been carried out in conformity with  the legal provisions and the control exercised by one police officer of a very high rank.” The legal struggle for independent probe into the whole incident has yielded good results but only time will tell if the pressure from civil society organisations, media and legal interventions can negate all political pressures.

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