Accused Of RTI Activist's Murder, Gujarat BJP Leader Roams Freely Despite Supreme Court Order
The Right To Information Act was introduced for ensuring transparency and accountability in the working of public authority. However, close to 59 RTI activists have been murdered in India for their pursuit of seeking information, and this number includes only the reported cases.
One such RTI activist, Amit Jethwa, a prominent Environmental activist, was killed on 20 July 2010 in front of the Ahmedabad High Court. He had filed an RTI for seeking information on the illegal mining of limestone in the Gir region of Gir Somnath district. During his pursuit, Jethwa came face to face with Dinubhai Boghabhai Solanki, a BJP leader and former MLA from the Kodinar assembly seat, and then MP from the Junagadh Lok Sabha constituency who was named in the case of illegal mining. Eventually, Amit went on to file a PIL against Solanki.
About Amit Jethwa
Amit Jethwa was born in Amreli in Gujarat. He was the eldest of four children of Bhikhabhai Jethwa. Married with two children, his whole family lived together, and Amit was the sole breadwinner.
He was a pharmacist and was working as a government employee posted at Khamba when he found that the government pharmacist was selling medicines privately and raised an objection to the corruption. Amit was then transferred to Kutch. He finally quit his job in 2007 to become a full-time activist.
He became a strong voice against many profile cases. He was one of the key persons involved in the endangered Chinkara case against Salman Khan which resulted in a five-year jail term for the actor. He brought to notice the use of Chinkara Deer in one of the scenes in the movie Lagaan.
Jethwa was quite vocal about the corruption among the Indian Forest Service officials. He raised the issue of mysterious deaths of Lions in Gir forest and his attempts to uncover such matters were often marred by the forest officials charging him for photographing dead Lions and trespassing.
Uncovering of illegal limestone mining
In the year 2007, Amit contested election against Solanki from Kodinar, but lost. In the following year, he filed six requests seeking information on illegal mining taking place outside the Gir Forest National Park. In a brutal retaliation, he was attacked due to which he had to be hospitalised for three months. Following this, along with his wife and his two children, shifted to Ahmedabad.
In 2010, based on the evidence collected through his RTI, he filed a PIL against Solanki.
"It had been couple of months after he had filed the PIL. He visited me in my office on the high court premises and said that he was being followed for about seven days and getting threats from Solanki and his men. Twenty four hours later, he was shot twice from a point blank range in front of the high court of Gujarat. He was declared dead on the spot. The contract killer who shot Amit was identified as Sailesh Pandya," Yagnik, Bhikabhai's lawyer, told The Wire.
The police hurriedly filed an FIR following Amit's murder without waiting for an intimation from his family. In spite of the fact that Amit had received various death threats from Solanki and his nephew Shiva Solanki, the police just stated in the FIR that "someone" had killed Amit.
Amit was a physically strong man, and despite being shot twice, he caught hold of the assailants. The assailants in a bid to free themselves left behind their belongings and the gun before fleeing. The police could have used these items to nab the assailants, but they did not, claims Yagnik.
Amit's family had mentioned that he was threatened of dire consequences on various occasions, even once in front of a large gathering by Solanki in Kodinar.
Events following the murder
The case saw no progress in the first three months, after which it was transferred to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Immediately, the CID arrested few, and all of them confessed to the crime, clearing Solanki and his nephew of the charges.
Realising the foul play, Yagnik moved the court, requesting the case to be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The case was transferred to CBI in October 2012, and Solanki was arrested on 5 November 2013.
A chargesheet was also filed around the same time against Solanki by the CBI, naming him as the chief conspirator along with his nephew and others. The chargesheet also stated that in the process, Solanki also sought the help of some on-duty police personnel and absconding criminals. He was granted interim bail on 24 February 2014.
When Jethwa's father, Bhikhabhai, initiated the case against Solanki, he already had 47 FIRs against him. Solanki's nephew Shiva and his men were also involved in seriously injuring another RTI activist, Mahesh Makhwana.
On October 2017, the court denied Solanki bail till the examination of eight key witnesses. Out of the 195, 105 eye witnesses turned hostile, and five others complained of intimidation.
"The bail of the accused shall remain cancelled until the examination of eight key witnesses in the case. The trial shall be held on a day-to-day basis and the accused (Solanki) will not enter Gujarat unless required in the case," held the bench of Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan.
Despite Supreme Court order, Solanki seems to be unperturbed as he can be seen attending political party meetings at Kodinar, before the polls. As per the photos posted by him on Facebook, on 2 November 2017, he can be seen attending "Sneh Sammelan" which a political Program of BJP.
According to Yagnik, Bhikhabhai has affirmed that an affidavit and an application has been sent requesting immediate arrest and permanent cancellation of bail to Solanki owing to non-compliance with Supreme Court's order and contempt of court.
Amit's family continued to receive threats, which prompted the whole family except Bhikhabhai to leave their home at Khamba to move to different places.
Bhikhabhai, however, remains unperturbed by the threats. He says, "I received around a dozen threats just after he died, warning me to not file a complaint. My wife was threatened and my son-in-law was attacked. They have even tried to lure me with money. The most recent threat I have received was after the high court ordered a reinvestigation in the case." He says the fight will continue till justice is served.