Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shehla Masood's horrendous murder - my article in MoneyLife

hat does the life of a 38-year-old matter for a diamond mine? Will the government take cognizance of the threats to RTIactivists?
August 31, 2011 01:04 PM Bookmark and Share 
Vinita Deshmukh
shehla-masood13

Shehla Masood, RTI activist and wildlife enthusiast, was shot dead outside her home in Bhopal on 16th August, the day Anna Hazare resumed his hunger protest for a strong anti-corruption law. She had informed the government about threats to her life, particularly by IPS officer Pawan Shrivastava, but even an elementary FIR was not registered by police. What protection do whistleblowers have in our country? 

The dark side of the Right to Information crusade is the brutal killing of RTIactivists. The latest victim was 38-year-old Shehla Masood, who was shotdead in her car on 16th August, as she left her home in Bhopal.

A comment posted by one of her friends onhttp://www.ecowalkthetalk.com/blog/?) on 20th August states: "She is a co-alumni of our High School in Bhopal, a Facebook friend and colleague on a fan page. I am shocked and sickened at the violent nature of this abominable crime against one of our best and brightest. How can Bhopal be safe if strong voices like Shehla Masood can be snuffed out without any repercussions? The government needs to show that it can keep its citizens safe by identifying the culprits and getting justice for Shehla's murder. 'It is in justice that the ordering of society is centered - Aristotle'."

In 2010 alone, there were 11 attacks on activists in various parts of Maharashtra, which is about half the number of attacks that occurred nationwide.
Satish Shetty was killed in Pune, on 13 January 2010, on his way back home on his morning walk. He had been exposing land scams of some mighty politicians.
In February, Arun Sawant was attacked and left paralysed in Thane. Arun had dug out land scams at a local municipal council.
Then in April, Vithal Gite was killed in Beed for revealing corruption in the local panchayat and block office.
In May, Dattatreya Patil was killed in the textile town of Ichalkaranji. He had brought out the corruption in the handloom sector.
Ramdas Ghadegaonkar was murdered in Nanded for exposing the scam in fuel and grain allocation in the public distribution system.
And in December, Irfan Qazi was killed for protesting against the controversial Jaitapur nuclear plant.
At the start of 2011, Yashwant Gavand was killed in Mumbai after he procured documents that revealed a local corporator had not declared his assets honestly to the Election Commission as is mandatory.
In Pune, Arun Mane (a colleague of Satish Shetty) was attacked for following up on Shetty's campaign on the land scams along the Pune-Mumbai Expressway.
What is most distressing is that none of these cases have been solved. As usual, police are said to be still investigating and the culprits roam free, feeling like victors.

While the murder of Shehla Masood, who was a wildlife enthusiast, may have missed the headlines as it happened on the day that Anna Hazare resumed his hunger protest, it is necessary to rewind the details of her crusade against corruption and financial irregularities.

In fact, the 38-year-old was on her way to participate in a rally to support the Gandhian leader's campaign for a strong Lokpal, when she was shotdead by an unidentified assailant as she hopped into the car. She had her car keys in one hand and the mobile in the other hand, her brother has said. Yet, the authorities are trying to make it out to be a case of suicide.

After an uproar in the media, police have now dumped the suicide theory, but are dishing out the usual rhetoric. Inspector General of Police (Bhopal range) Vijay Yadav says police is convinced that it was indeed a murder; she was shot dead from point blank range; all possible angles are being explored to get the killer. The fact is that Shehla Masood was campaigning against mining activity by a multinational company that is endangering the Panna Tiger Reserve and the Shyamri river, and that is why she was eliminated.

Gopal Krishna, founder, convener of Toxics Watch Alliance (TWA), an non-government organisation campaigning against corporate crimes andpollution, and Prakash Ray of Jawaharlal Nehru University Researchers' Association (JNURA), have written to the central and state governments demanding "that the possible connection between her murder and her raising the issue of the illegal diamond mining project in Chhatarpur district in Madhya Pradesh, by Rio Tinto, a transnational mining company headquartered in the UK (combining Rio Tinto plc, a London and NYSE listed company, and Rio Tinto Limited, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange), must be investigated along with other suspicions by a high level probe team."

They have said, "the mining block is inside a forest, which is at the northernmost tip of the best corridor of teak forests south of the Gangetic plain. It is an established law that mining is non-forestry activity. There is an immediate need for a probe to determine who allowed the mining to take place in such an ecologically fragile area. The Bunder mine project, near the city of Chhatarpur in Madhya Pradesh, about 500 km south-east of Delhi, is likely to be one of the largest diamond reserves in the world. It is estimated that there is a 'inferred resource' of 27.4 million carats, a diamonds resource seven times richer than the Panna mine, the country's only working diamond mine.

"A statement, dated 22 March 2011, was laid in Parliament (Lok Sabha) on the 'need to review the diamond mining project in Chhatarpur district, Madhya Pradesh, posing serious threat to environment in the region'.

"We have learnt from senior journalists that two Collectors have been transferred to facilitate the ongoing illegal mining and the fact that the new Collector has allowed mining which came to light when a PIL was filed, stating that Rio Tinto has been carrying on exploitation of mineral resources in Chhatarpur district violating the prescribed provisions.

"Prior to the statement in the Lok Sabha, on 10 March 2011, the Forest Advisory Committee Meeting of the Ministry of Environment and Forests listed Agenda no. 6 on 'Prospecting of diamonds at 143 additional locations in 2329.75 hectares of forest land located in 18 compartments in Buxwaha Range in Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh by M/s Rio Tinto Exploration India Private Limited. [File No. 8-49/2006-FC-(Vol.)]' to discuss it, but did not do so stating, 'Due to paucity of time the proposal could not be discussed during the meeting'.

"We had written to the Union Environment Minister and Parliamentary Petitions Committee, separately, drawing attention towards Madhya Pradesh High Court's notices to the Centre and the state government on illegal mining of diamonds by international mining companies. The court had asked both the governments to reply in this matter within four weeks. Considering the act of illegal mining as a serious offence, a double bench of chief justice Sayed Rafat Alam and justice Sushil Harkauli criticised the forest departments, mining secretaries of the state and the centre and issued notices against them, in addition to the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board and Chhatarpur Collector.

"We take note of 'Rio Tinto: the Tainted Titan', the Stakeholders Report, www.cfmeu.asn.au, 1997, which states 'Its (Rio Tinto's) activities in some of the wildest and the most pristine places in the world and their impact on the environment of those places, the people who live there, the lifestyle of the indigenous people and also its corporate culture, are subjects of real concern.

"We submit that the Rio Tinto project is threatening unique forest resources in the area affected by the mine in Chhatarpur, Madhya Pradesh. In this context, it may be noted that veteran journalist Roger Moody has in his book 'Plunder', described Rio Tinto's activities as ranging from 'brow-beating opponents, leaning on governments and price-fixing, to violating international law, union-busting and management of one of the world's biggest commodity cartels". His book outlines numerous examples of its environmental irresponsibility.

"We salute the struggle and martyrdom of Shehla Masood who defended our forests, rivers, land and wildlife in the face of unscrupulous corporate assault in nexus with ruling political regimes. Shehla Masood used to conclude her messages with a proud 'Roarrrrr' that cannot be silenced by the bullets of her assailants."

This apart, Shehla Masood had formally complained through letters in 2009 and 2010 to the director general of police as well as the Central Information Commission (CIC) that she had been receiving threats from Pawan Shrivastava, an IPS officer, who had in one of the instances asked her to withdraw her RTI applications. However, her complaint was pushed into the hands of a junior police officer who understandably could not take on his senior.

Shehla had also received threats over various other issues involving a number of government officers and politicians. In an interview to Outlookmagazine she said, "I'm fighting for good governance, transparency, police reforms and environmental issues like tiger conservation. I've been using the RTI Act since 2005 as a tool to collect evidence. It is the nexus between politicians and babus which is slowly poisoning our country. The fight is between the powerful and weak and I represent the weakest and the poorest of society."

In all likelihood, the mining mafia will have the last laugh. But it is in this backdrop that Anna Hazare is leading the movement that has taken the first little step towards condemnation of the mindless and shameless corruption engaged in by our elected representatives and bureaucrats who are destroying the heart and soul of our country. And they claim "parliamentary supremacy"! Bah!

(Vinita Deshmukh is a senior editor, author and convener of Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She can be reached at vinitapune@gmail.com.)

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12 Comments
Nitin Kirtane 5 days ago
it is sad that a very good RTI activist is killed in such a manner , looks like our country does not care for its people and people in power will do anything, is so muck illegal activity going on all over , which is why we need Anna Hazare to keep up this fight against corrupt people in power , excellent article by Mrs Deshmukh ,
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Anil 6 days ago
India is fast turning into a Mafia state,with active support of its govt. controlled investigation bodies.We desperately need the Jan lokpal bill
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MADHUKAR 1 week ago
I am in favor of mining. Half the activists are truly concerned for good of society but many may be just blackmailers. Mines are assets given by God to us and such activists are stalling our progress. I don't comment on Ms Masud as I dont know much about those mines but stoppage of mining in parts of Karnataka is unfortunate. Supreme court abuses them as illegal miners but they are illegal bcoz the local government is not issuing permits. If you issue permit, you get bribe only once. If you encourage them to mine without permit, u get bribe every month. So instead of abusing miners, abuse permit issuing authorities. Look at cause, not result. Issue permits and they become legal miners, govt gets taxes but the officer gets nothing.
All illegal activities have to have govt servants as partners. Otherwise activities will stop. Don't think govt's surveillance is weak. They all know everything about illegal activities under them. All govt servants are expert businessmen

After corrupt politicians and corrupt govt staff, you will have to tackle corrupt NGOs.

Megha Patkar had done disservice to nation by stalling Narmada project in the name of whitsle blower / activist /ngo. Posr-Narmada, Gujrat has given a decade of 10+% of Agri growth Vs national average of 2.5%. Migration of people from Gujrat to Mumbai is reversed.

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  CommonMan 5 days ago  in reply to MADHUKAR
"If you issue permit, you get bribe only once. If you encourage them to mine without permit, u get bribe every month. "

I agree to this. Govt don't do anything. It will introduce some crap GO's in name of aamadmi welfare then those who depend on them had to revolve around government office paying bribes for permissions
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madhu 1 week ago
Govt shld use fast track courts to resolve the murder cases of social workers . These are the people India requires. India is 99% corrupt by Politicians and beureaucrats. 1% represented by ppl like Shehla.Please save such honest good people, request to Govt to save India .Sorry tosay she was killed in EId month
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  RNandakumar 1 week ago  in reply to Madhu
I do not know whether fast courts have time-limits. Short period should be given for finalising the investigations. Annaji has shown us the way to make the Govt work in the way we want it to work. Mass peaceful protest seem to be the only way the govt listens.
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  Reporter 1 week ago  in reply to Madhu
I fully agree with Madhu.
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vimalbhair 1 week ago
very sad govt. now should act fast to save the life of such social workers.They are the pilars of our country.
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Shivkumar 1 week ago
One thing should be clear by this time that THE authorities in India dont like whistleblowers; rather they detest whistleblowers.

This is not the first time nor this will be the last time that a whistleblower has been killed. Our country is full of fraudsters and scamsters and it becomes doubly dangerous when men in uniform are involved with these looters. After all you don't expect a 'CHOR to catch another 'CHOR'. Only way is to bring huge pressure on the government to immeidately provide protection to whistleblowers, though it seems unlikely. But we have to keep on trying till we succeed.
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  Reporter 1 week ago  in reply to Shivkumar
Well done, Sivakumar.
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Java 1 week ago
A web site highlighting the killed RTI activists and the issues they were pursuing, including all the documents, will help ensure that the issues and the brave martyrs are not forgotten, but are open to the world to follow through and for the media and journalists to highlight and chase.
By the way, August 16 was not the day after, but the day Anna started his fast. She was on her way to join the supporters in Bhopal.
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  mrod 1 week ago  in reply to Java
Thank u for the August 16 correction
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