Cost of filing RTI with police in Gujarat: Activist-journalist Shailesh Patel “murdered” by bootleggers
By Pankti Jog*
In Mahatma Gandhi’s dry state, even asking for information about illegal liquor trading has proved to be life snatching. Shailesh Kantilal Patel of Surendranagar district of Gujarat filed a right to information (RTI) application on June 15, 2015 at 12 noon at the district superintendent of police’s (DSP’s) office of Surendrangar district. He was murdered on the same day late night.
Shailesh Patel’s RTI application, typed on Rs 20 stamp paper, had only one query – details of cases registered since 2011 against one Rafik Yunus alias Haji who is allegedly into liquor trading, and also about what action police have taken regarding the same.
Contends his sister Praveena Patel, who is police constable and works with Mahila Police Station in Surendrangar town, police informed about the RTI application to local crime branch (LCB), whose cops approached Shailesh Patel to make a settlement. But when Shailesh Patel refused, “he was murdered”.
The in-charge public information officer (PIO) in the DSP office, on being approached, said, he accepted the RTI request and “immediately transferred to the city police station, to which the matter belongs”. On contacting police inspector (PI) of the city police station, who is also the PIO, he said he received Shailesh Patel’s RTI application only on June 18, thee days after the murder.
According to the police, Shailesh Patel had had lent Rs 50,000 to the accused, and this triggered the murder. However, his 80-year-old mother denies this. “My son asked for information, and that is why the bootleggers murdered him”, she said. Shailesh Patel worked as reporter with the local “Tankar” weekly.
|Shailesh Patel’s press i-card|
Coincidently, around 80 women reached Gandhinagar to meet chief minister Anandiben Patel to submit a memorandum on June 16, in which one of the major issues highlighted was illegal liquor trade in Surendrangar. The memorandum said, illegal liquor has led to sharp rise in violence against women. But the chief minister refused to meet them, and they were sent to the secretary, food and civil supplies department.
“We do not hope that police will do proper investigation. We will represent to higher authorities regarding police role in Shailesh Patel’s murder”, his family members said. His brother also plans to file a complaint under section 18 of RTI Act, demanding for proper inquiry, and information to be given.
The Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel (MAGP), Gujarat’s apex body of RTI activists, has decided to submit a report to the State information Commission, requesting it to order for the disclosure of the information on the website, as this information has proved to be too sensitive. MAGP will also be appealing to the RTI community across the state and the nation to file RTI and seek information which Shailesh Patel had wanted from the police.
Till date six persons seeking information through RTI have lost their lives in Gujarat. The first one to die was Amit Jethva, who sought information regarding action taken against illegal mining around the Gir forest, the only abode of Asiatic lion. In none of the cases accused has been punished. Then, there been around 40 incidents of severe attacks on RTI activists, as per the information received by MAGP on its helpline, 9924085000.
The Whistleblowers’ Protection Act, which was passed one-and-a-half-years ago, has still not implemented by the Government of India. The Gujarat government has not framed any mechanism for protecting the whistleblower, either.
*Senior activist, MAGP. This report was prepared following the visit of MAGP team to Surendrangar and meeting with victims’ family members, and visit to the DSP office and the city police station on June 19, 2015