Chief Information Commissioner of Maharashtra and former chief secretary of state Ratnakar Gaikwad on Monday asked authorities to ensure a thorough probe into the murder of RTI activist Bhupendra Vira and make public the information sought by him.
He gave the direction after former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi filed a complaint under the RTI Act.
According to Mumbai Mirror, RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi wrote to Gaikwad for the immediate release of all pending RTI applications filed by Vira and to give police security to Vira's family along with a speedy investigation into his murder. "The incident is despicable and I request the commission to treat this as a complaint under Section 18 (Powers and functions of Information Commission) of RTI Act. This continued violence against activists must be brought to an end," he wrote.
In his order, Gaikwad asked the chief secretary, additional chief secretary (home) and police commissioner to carry out a thorough probe into the incident. He directed the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to upload on its website information sought by Vira through applications pending with its Public Information Officers (PIOs).
"The Municipal Commissioner shall review all pending applications filed with various PIOs in BMC by Bhupendra Vira during the last one year and ensure information sought is put on the BMC website before 31 October, 2016 without fail," Gaikwad said. The Additional Chief Secretary (General Administration Department) shall review pending RTI applications filed by Vira during the last one year with various public authorities other than BMC and make sure information sought is put on the government websites concerned before 31 October.
The 72-year-old campaigner, who had taken on land mafia and encroachers, had filed applications with BMC and Slum Rehabilitation Authority and Lokayutka, among others. Vira is survived by a daughter and two sons. He was shot dead on Saturday night at his residence in Mumbai's Santacruz.
Former corporator Razzaq Khan and his son were arrested in connection with the murder, which police suspect, is a fallout of a land dispute.
Mid-day reported that Bhupendra Vira worked to put out 100 notices and demolition orders against illegal structures, mainly belonging to the accused. There were past records of the long-standing dispute between Vira and Khan. The activist had also complained of danger to his life to the police.
"The assailant entered Vira's residence around 9 PM yesterday (15 October), put a gun to his temple and fired. The activist died on the spot," a police officer attached with Vakola police station said. Social activist and former AAP leader Anjali Damania, who had worked with Vira, demanded immediate arrest of the accused. She said Vira was attached to 'Voice of Kalina', an advanced locality management (ALM) body and a citizen's group. Describing him as committed social worker, Damania said, "Vira along with other members of the ALM were fighting against encroachments, illegal structures and land mafia in and around Kalina by filing RTIs." According to her, several activists had received threats and many of them, including Vira, had filed several complaints at Vakola Police Station in this regard.
According to The Hindu, Razzaq Khan and his son, Amjad were produced in court on Monday and placed in police custody till 24 October. They are being interrogated about the identity of the assassin and the source of the firearm and other such details.
According to The Indian Express, local politicians said that Vira was a BJP member and used to attend party meetings. According to Yeshpal Kanchan, a former Mumbai BJP leader, the deceased was not an RTI activist and was only filing applications against Khan's illegal properties when his gala shop was seized about six years ago. A settlement was being reached in a series of meetings at the local corporator's office and the BJP office but could not be concluded because of a disagreement over the "sum demanded to peacefully settle the issue". This was reiterated by the local Congress corporator Brian Miranda, who added that a personal grudge and money was involved in between Vira and Khan.
In another report by Mid-day, Clarence Pinto from Voice of Kalina said that there is a lot of pressure on activists to stop questioning the system.
With inputs from agencies