Monday, November 23, 2015

Gujarat whistleblower's murder: State government "created circumstances" for the gruesome incident

By Our Representative
The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), India’s premier human rights organinization, has alleged the Gujarat government not only failed to protect the Banskantha district’s right to information (RTI) activist and whistleblower Ratansinh Chaudhary last month, but actually “created circumstances” that led to his murder.
A PUCL investigation team, which visited the village to which Chaudhary, an other backward caste (OBC) community, belonged, said, with his murder, the total number of whistleblowers which have so far been murdered has reached 11. Others who are been murdered are Amit Jethva, Nadeem Saiyad, Vishram Dodiya, Jabar Dan Gadhvi, Amit Kapasiya, Shailesh Patel, Rayabhai Gohil, Ketan Solanki, Jayesh Barot, and Yogesh Shekhar.
A PUCL report released to the media said, Chaudhary first sent their complaint to the Chief Minister on October 7, 2015 through fax and later by post” about “misappropriation” of flood relief funds. As per routine, the complaint was transferred to the lower level on October 12.
On the very same day, an RTI application was filed by Chaudhary. Instead of taking any action, the administration leaked the information to vested interests of the village. “The accused attacked Chaudhury saying that he was lodging complaints against them and he was murdered”, the PUCL said.
The fact-finding team, consisting of Jatin Sheth of PUCL, Pankti Jog of Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Mahesh Pandya of Paryavaran Mitra, Nita Mahadev of Gujarat Lok Samiti, Meenakshi Joshi of Movement for Secular Democracy, visited the village in Suigam taluka of Banaskantha district, where massive floods invaded large number of villages during the monsoon.
In his complaint, Chaudhary had insisted that the chief minister should to withdraw all the relief amounts paid to people due to heavy corruption, and carry out re-survey, as the relief had not reached to genuinely affected persons, “and if reached, it was pretty small amount”. He had added, only “influential persons” had “grabbed cheques of big amounts, and that, too, in the different names of the same family.”
The report said, what was also shocking was that, while two of the four accused in the murder of Chaudhary had been arrested, they were already out on bail, suggesting how seriously the Gujarat government’s investigation agencies are taking the case of the murder of a whisteblower.
The report further said, RTI reply to PUCL suggested that the Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority (GSDMA), Gujarat’s premier anti-disaster body, had “no plans” to save the lives of people trapped in flooded areas of not just Banaskantha and other affected districts Surendranagar and Amreli.
“The information received by Jatin Sheth (PUCL) through his RTI application reveals that there was no advanced planning. The answers to various questions are ‘we have zero information’! Amreli district had only one boat for rescue of people, and that too was out of order”, the report said.
The PUCL further said, “No information of relief fund survey is available online as the information is not displayed on any of the websites of the government, including the state government, the district collector and so on”, though this should have been as part of voluntary disclosure under the RTI Act.
“The questions such as who received what relief amount, what were the parameters fixed for survey team, what to do and whom to approach in case of injustice, how many days it will take to resolve the complaint lodged etc. remain unanswered till date”, the report said.

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