Daylight murders of RTI activists, whistleblowers. Does the govt care?
The recent assault on Govind Pansare in Kolhapur shows how whistleblowers are at the receiving end of brutality and hated by interested elements across the country. RTI activists of Odisha have submitted the fact-finding report on the recent murder of Krupasindhu Sahu, a 40-year-old RTI activist demanding a high-level independent inquiry by the state government
Forty-year-old Krupasindhu Sahu, a resident of Nachhinga village in Cuttack district was murdered on 26 January 2015, allegedly for procuring information that exposed corruption and financial misappropriation in the Bringing 2nd Green Revolution in East India (BGREI) funds. This is just after a month of the murder of another Right to Information (RTI) activist Ganesh Chandra Panda from Rangeilunda village of Ganjam district, who was allegedly killed for exposing huge corruption in the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) scheme.
Earlier this week, Govind Pansare, the leader of anti-toll movement in Maharashtra and his wife were shot at while returning from their morning walk in Kolhapur. According to police, two unidentified assailants on a motorbike accosted the couple around 8am and fired at least four rounds from close range before speeding off. Leaders and activists across the political spectrum expressed outrage over the attacks reminiscent of the early morning killing of anti-superstitions activist Narendra Dabholkar in Pune in August 2013. His killers are still absconding.
Distressed by the 30-odd murders and attacks on RTI activists reported every other day, over the last few years, a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the field of RTI across Odisha came together in Bhubaneshwar for a convention on 5 February 2015. The meeting was organised jointly by Human Rights Front, Odisha Soochana Adhikar Abhijan and Civil Society Forum on Human Rights. It is pertinent to note that such assaults have become commonplace in practically every State.
Besides this, a Fact Finding Committee comprising leading RTI activists who visited the spot and spoke to witnesses, have submitted the report to the Odisha government, demanding an independent inquiry and protection to whistleblowers. The team comprised Pradip Pradhan, state convener, Odisha Soochna Adhikar Abhihan, Manoj Jena, chairperson Human Rights Front, Bijaylaxmi Routray, member, Society for Fast Justice and noted activist Srikant Pakal.
Incidentally, as soon as RTI supporters in Odisha circulated the fact finding mission report about the murder of Krupasindhu, the Commonwealth Human Rights Commission (CHRI) sent a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The NHRC has registered this case in addition to the complaints sent by other NGOs in Odisha.
The forum has decided to unitedly to fight out corruption and irregularities in State administration and cooperate and support each other at the time of any type of attack on RTI activists in the state; and to carry out united action for protection of RTI Activists and to fight out corruption. They also decided to construct a memorial in honour of the martyrs who played the vital role of whistleblowers but were made silent, by taking away their lives.
The Fact Finding team has demanded high-level independent inquiry into the circumstances leading to murder of Sahu and role of some local politicians in this gruesome act. The Team also appealed to state government to direct the vigilance department to enquire into huge corruption and irregularities in BGREI fund in Niali Block. It also demanded legal action against officials of Agricultural Department and influential beneficiaries who have misappropriated funds and; the State Government should provide adequate financial support for survival of the family members and education of children of Sahu.
Excerpts from the report of the Fact Finding Committee:
• The Team is of the view that RTI stands as a factor behind this pre-planned cold-blooded murder of Krupasindhu Sahu. His use of RTI has brought to lime light the huge corruption and irregularities in BGREI fund sanctioned for development of agriculture in this Block by the influential and powerful political people. This expose enraged these people and created enmity with Krupasindhu. Apprehending enquiry into this scam and recovery of fund from them, they got psychologically disturbed to save their image. They also threatened him to attack and murder him several times as reported by Gitanjali Sahu. It is presumed that these people whose name has been figured in FIR might have engaged Kartik Pani by paying supari (contract to kill) to murder Krupasindhu. The police has neither interrogated these people nor arrested him till yet. The Team is of the view that as these people are members of Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the ruling political party of Odisha and hence the police has not dared to take any action against them.
• Though FIR was filed on 28 January 2015, the Inspector-In-Charge did not take the case seriously. It may be the police have acted at the behest of the politically powerful people of this area. It is also presumed that this is deep-rooted conspiracy hatched between the people involved in misappropriation of BGREI fund and the police which led to the murder of Krupasindhu by a dreaded criminal. The pre-planned strategy in connivance with the police provided golden opportunity to the criminals to murder him. The high-level enquiry can unearth the truth. In the absence of proper investigation, the criminals also dared to murder him without any fear and absconded. Detailed information can be obtained, if the all records of mobile no. ( M-94*******0, 94*******1, 91*******5) of Inspector-In-charge can be investigated
• The whole episode revolves around expose of misappropriation of BGREI fund through RTI by Krupasindhu. The role of the agriculture officials and NGO the SANSKAR behind murder cannot be ruled out. Apprehending arrest and recovery of fund which has been misappropriated by the beneficiaries in collusion with Agriculture officials, they might have joined and party to this conspiracy to murder conspiracy. There must be a high-level enquiry into misappropriation of BGREI fund in this Block.
Fact Finding Team's findings:
Krupasindhu Sahoo, aged 40 is a farmer and earns his livelihood by cultivating his 5 acres of land. He was survived by his mother, wife and two children. At first, the Team members visited his house and interacted with his wife Gitanjali Sahu about the incident. His niece Gitanjali Sahoo also elaborated chronologically the event led to murder of Sri Sahoo. The excerpts of the discussion are as follows.
On 26 January 2015, Sahoo had gone to village market in the evening and did not return back. His wife got disturbed finding his delay to return to home and made repeated calls to his mobile which was found switched off. On 27 January 2015, the family members made fervent attempts to locate him and seared many places, but it went in vain. But his vehicle was found deserted near Mahaveer temple of the village. Finding the vehicle, the family members suspected that some unusual incident might have taken place. So, on 28 January 2015, Gitanjali Sahu received two mobile calls in different times ( at 8am and 7pm) from an unknown person ( M- 95839-83871) who demanded Rs30 lakh and three kg gold to release her husband who has been kidnapped and kept in some unidentified place. She expressed her helplessness and requested to leave her husband. Then, she filed an FIR in Niali Police station at 3pm to find out the whereabouts of her husband. On 31st January, the Police located the spot i.e., river bed of Tanla river where his dead body was found buried. The police team recovered the body and sent it to SCB Medical for post mortem. The Police also arrested Pratap Jena, nephew, sister and mother of the accused Kartik Pani, prime accused of same village who had returned from jail after seven years rigorous imprisonment on a murder cases. He was found absconding.
Gitanjali Sahu also shared with the team that three months back, her husband had submitted RTI Application to the office of District Agriculture officer, Cuttack seeking information about details of fund spent for SRI cultivation under BGREI and beneficiary list of Block Demonstration of HYV paddy in Krushnaprasad Gram Panhayat of Niali Block. This information supplied by the PIO exposed huge corruption and misappropriation of fund by the beneficiaries who have taken lakhs of rupees by making false bill in connivance with Agriculture officials and The SANSKAR, an NGO, which has been given the project to monitor the same. Armed with the information, Krupasindhu lodged a complaint to the authority seeking an enquiry into corruption and recovery of the fund. This enraged the beneficiaries of the misappropriation of fund who took several attempts to attack him and threatened him to murder. But he remained undeterred in his mission. His wife, in her FIR, has mentioned names of these people, who have threatened him of dire consequence several times.
• The Team also visited the spot i.e., the house of prime accused where Krupasindhu was allegedly murdered. This house was found deserted. The villagers said that when the prime accused Kartik Pani was jailed on murder case seven years back, his mother and sister left the place and stayed at other places. The villagers also said that the prime accused who is still absconding was found accompanying Krupasindhu in the market on the evening on 26 January 2015. Kartik might have murdered Krupasindhu on same day. As he is hard-core criminal, he might have been given supari by the powerful people to kill Krupasindhu, which needs to be enquired by the investigating agency.
• The Team visited the Niali Police station and enquired to meet Satyabrata Lenka, Inspector-In-Charge. But, Nrusingha Charan Swain, SDPO, who has been responsibility to investigate into the matter said that the IIC had been asked by SP, Cuttack to go on leave. He had just joined on 31 January 2015 in his place. During interaction about the murder case, Swain apprised the team that Krupasindhu’s wife had filed an FIR and police had registered the case under IPC 364 on 28 January 2015 and started investigation. The Police have identified Kartik Pani as main accused who is absconding and arrested his nephew Pratap Jena, mother and sister after mobile phone tracking. The police team has recovered the decomposed body of Krupasindhu with help of Pratap Jena who had helped carrying dead body to river bed and sent it for post mortem. The SDPO also said to start full-fledged investigation from 2nd February. He also said that this is no doubt a pre-planned murder. On query about whether any powerful people are involved in this murder, he said that it could not be ruled out.
• On the way back to Bhubaneswar, the Team came across the dead body in a decorated vehicle with flower along the roadside of Niali market and gathering of hundreds of people. The Team halted and met Rabi Mallik, ex-MLA of this area and discussed about the murder. He said Krupasindhu’s use of RTI has exposed misappropriation of BGREI fund by the powerful people, who have conspired to murder him in connivance of the police of Niali Police station. Satyabrata Lenka, IIC is also involved in this murder, he alleged.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of
Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.