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Conviction of ex-BJP MP: Punctuation mark in battle against illegal mining mafia?

Amit Jethva
By RK Misra*
The conviction of an MP for murder by the CBI court in Ahmedabad reveals how the rich and powerful get away with heinous crimes unless the judicial system works as it should. “Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done”, or so goes an old saying.
In this case it was finally seen to be done, nine days short of a nine year long epic battle, when the Special CBI Court in Ahmedabad sentenced former BJP MP from Junagadh, Dinu Bogha Solanki and six others, including his nephew and a police constable, life came full circle for a grieving father and a small dedicated band which fought indomitable odds to secure justice for the murder of his son, Right to Information (RTI) activist Amit Jethva in 2010.
Amit’s father, Bhikhubhai, says: “The conviction is a victory of the judiciary and a proof that a judicial system exists which is re-assuring for commoners”. The verdict is perhaps the first time in the history of Gujarat that a former MP- he was a sitting MP when the crime took place- has been held guilty of murder.
The 858 page judgment which sentenced Dinu and five of his accomplices to life imprisonment is an indictment of the state government. Judge KM Dave has ordered inquiry and action against officials of a dozen government departments including the police for covering up as well as 38 of the witnesses who turned hostile. Ironically, six days after the sentencing, the judge on July 17, 2019, ordered security cover for the five key witnesses, including well known advocate Anand Yagnik.
Amit, who had taken on powerful people indulging in illegal mining in and around the lion sanctuary of Sasan Gir in Gujarat, was shot dead outside the Gujarat High Court on July 20, 2010. The killing came within a fortnight of his filing an RTI on the issue. 
Amit was shot from point blank range when he had gone to see his lawyer. He was targeted because he had exposed illegal mining carried out by then sitting BJP MP, Solanki, through RTI queries.
Dinu Bogha Solanki with BJP chief Amit Shah
Failing to get a response from the BJP-ruled state government, Jethva moved the Gujarat High Court and days later paid with his life. Solanki was then a man whose writ ran over the region and with high profile connections he flaunted his opulent lifestyle. According to one story, he even owned an air-conditioned tractor.
Proof lay in the fact that despite the national outcry over the murder, successive police investigations continued to give a clean chit to the MP. On July 24, 2010 investigations were transferred from the Ahmedabad police to the Crime branch but barely a month later the investigating officer also cleared Solanki of any wrongdoing.
The matter was back before the High Court which handed over investigation of the case to the CBI on September 25 even as it rejected the state government’s plea seeking a stay on the order.
It had harsh words to say:
“So many people, whose vested interests may have been affected by his applications under the RTI Act, could have a motive to contribute into his killing. Therefore, a perfunctory investigation on the basis of statements of the accused persons themselves may not unearth the whole truth and meet the ends of justice. It is imperative that proper and comprehensive investigation is undertaken by an agency which is not under the control of the State Government.
"The murder of a petitioner in a PIL and an RTI activist, in front of the High Court, amounted to an affront to the judicial system and a challenge to implementation of an Act of Parliament, with national repercussions and has to be viewed seriously. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that the case is thoroughly investigated and prosecuted by independent officers…”, it ruled.

Bhikhubhai who was fighting spiritedly was backed by a small, determined band of activists. At one point Bhikhubhai moved the High Court seeking re-trial on the ground that 105 of the total 195 witnesses had turned hostile under pressure from the BJP leader. By then the trial had already concluded. 
In one incident a scared witnesses under cross-examination, jumped out of the witness-box and ran away after he was told that his son had gone missing. The High Court ordered a re-trial.
The case reached the Supreme Court which restricted it to examining 27 witnesses afresh including 18 eye-witnesses. The High Court also transferred the case to special CBI judge K.M.Dave though the trend of witnesses turning hostile continued. By one count, the number stood at 155 including those who were re-examined.
Once the CBI took charge, investigations gathered pace. Dinu Solanki was arrested on November 5, 2013 and on December 21, 2013, the CBI filed its charge-sheet against him. On February 25, 2014, the Supreme Court granted him bail.
Anand Yagnik
According to special prosecutor Mukesh Kapadia, the testimony of Rama Haja was crucial to the conviction. Haja was Solanki’s driver for 18 years. He was moved by the CBI to Delhi and his statement recorded under section 164 CrPC.
He was an eye-witness to the entire sequence of events including the planning of the murder, the involvement and role of each of the co-accused including the policeman and the hiring of paid killers, and also included a crucial piece of evidence -- he testified that Solanki received a call on his mobile informing him that the job of killing Jethva had been completed.
The mobile had gone missing but Haja showed CBI the location where the mobile had been buried and call-data records nailed the strongman.
Bhikhubhai was supported in no small measure by lawyer activist Anand Yagnik. ”We filed 35 petitions before the High Court in our pursuit of justice. These were powerful people who had the best legal brains working for them but ours was a fight for justice”, says the lawyer, who himself testified before the courts that Jethva had spoken of a threat to his life from Solanki.
Yagnik was the legal brain behind Jethva’s original crusade. He was supported by Mahesh Makwana, also an RTI activist and a close associate of Jethva in the battle against the illegal mining mafia. The Dalit activist was even assaulted by goons in 2016.
”There are nearly 50 criminal complaints filed against Dinu Solanki and his family members and accomplices but the cops go through the rigmarole of filing reports and exonerating them”, he says, adding that he will continue the crusade taken up by his late friend.
At one point, Bhikhubhai had sought police protection for the judge hearing the case. The judgment was delivered amidst tight security and in-camera. Among those held guilty of murder, criminal conspiracy and violations of the arms Act include besides Dinu Solanki, his nephew Pratap alias Shiva Solanki, Pachan Desai, police constable Bahadursinh Vadher, sharp shooters Shailesh Pandya, Sanjay Chauhan and Udhaji Thakore.
Bhikhubhai Jethva understands well that this may be a mere punctuation mark in a continuing battle against both the illegal mining mafia and the legal battle he is fighting, but is determined to carry it to its logical end. As he says: "My son can now finally rest in peace for he has got justice after a very long struggle”.
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*Senior Gujarat-based journalist. Blog: https://wordsmithsandnewsplumbers.blogspot.com/

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