Ahmedabad: Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP), or Gujarat Initiative for Right to Information, and People’s Union of Civil Liberties(PUCL) have alleged that there is a “jungle raj” in Gujarat because of the state being on top of the list of murders of RTI activists and whistleblowers and on third position in the list of custodial killings.
In a report released to media, MAGP representative Pankti Jog said that a total of 12 RTI activists had been murdered in the state since the implementation of RTI provisions in the state in 2005. Her claims are based on a report prepared by the New Delhi-base Asian Centre for Human Rights. The latest victim, according to Jog, was a 55-year-old Ratansinh Chaudhary of Garanbadi village in Suigam taluka in Banaskantha district. He was murdered by four persons of his village on October 17 this year for demanding transparency in distribution of relief and compensation to the flood victims through the gram panchayat of his village.
Giving details about how he was murdered, Jog said that on October 7 this year, he had written to chief minister’s office seeking end to irregularities in distribution of relief to the flood hit victims. According to his application, as the district authorities were issuing bearer cheques and not account payee cheques, the sarpanch of the village would himself get the cheque encashed in the bank and pocket 10 per cent of the money and then hand over the rest of the money in whose name the cheque was issued. He had also alleged that in several cases, each and every member of some families were given compensation individually for the same loss while the compensation was to be paid collectively to every affected family. So, some families favoured by the sarpanch and the government authorities got several times more money than others. He also filed an RTI on October 12 in this connection. But the district officials, instead of giving him information, directed his RTI application to the village sarpanch. Consequently, four persons intercepted him at 6.30 a.m. on October 17 when he was returning from his farm on a motorbike and beat him to death. “We had never imagined that such a thing will happen in Gujarat. This has shocked the RTI activists in the state”, Jog said.
Other RTI activists killed in the state, according to MAGP’s report, are Amit Jethwa, Nadeem Saiyed, Vishram Dodiya, Jabardan Gadhvi, Amit Kapasia, Shailesh Patel, Rayabhai Gohil, Ketan Solanki, Purushottam Chauhan, Jayesh Barot and Yogesh Shekhar. PUCL’s state secretary Gautam Thakar said that a total of 91 persons had died in police custody in Gujarat between 2005 and 2012 and it was only behind Maharashtra with 159 custodial deaths and UP with 122 custodial deaths. He quoted these figures from the National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB) and National Human Rights Commission(NHRC). Thakar said that Shwetang Patel of Ahmedabad, who was picked up by the police during the recent Patidar agitation, was the latest victim of custodial killings. He said that as many as 965 cases were registered against police personnel in 2013 alone in Gujarat and departmental action was initiated in 276 cases and chargesheets had been filed in 180 cases.