When power gags the Press: A reflection on the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case

Gagging was a term prominent during the times when British ruled India. Then came Congress leader Indira Gandhi’s time who also gagged the press. Last year in November, this term came to the surface yet again with the CBI Court disallowing the press to report a case.

This is the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case. On November 29, 2017; following an application by advocate Wahab Khan, a ban was put on media (print, electronic and social) to report this case, though they could attend the proceeding.

Courts generally allow such in-camera i.e. private proceedings only if there is a rape case or a case concerning national security. But in this case according to  the order by Special Judge S.J. Sharma, “The publication may create security problem for the accused persons, prosecution witnesses, the defence team and the prosecutor as well.”

Principles generally followed by court have been compromised, in this case.

Following the gagging, nine journalists filed a petition against the order. Journalists from reputed media organisations like The Wire, Dailyo, Scroll, The Free Press Journal, etc. stood before the SC in solidarity.

But the damage has already been done.

In August last year when Inspector General of Gujarat DG Vanzara and IPS officer Dinesh MN were absolved from the charges. While from December, 19 of the eyewitnesses have either retracted their statements or denied stating anything, according to a report by The Indian Express.

The case has been witnessing a fall since the BJP came to power. First there were changes in the judges, then Sohrabuddin’s brother Rubabbudin Sheikh withdraw the petition challenging discharge of Amit Shah, and then the recent developments from 2017.

The case is complicated because of many reasons. One, because it concerns encounter killing of an alleged terrorist and extortionist mafia Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kausar Bi and Sheikh’s close aide Tulsiram Prajapati. Two, Sohrabuddin according to the Gujarat and Rajasthan Police wanted to kill the then Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi. Three, one of the accused in the case is the then, Minister of Home for Gujarat and now, ruling party chairman Amit Shah.

The lopsided and strange episodes in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case has raised a question about not just media freedom but also about the meaning of justice in our country.

Sources: The Indian Express, Scroll, The Wire

 

68% vote in Phase one Gujarat polls-A look at the Highlights of the Day

Hindu Business Line reported that Gujarat saw a 68% voter turnout in the first phase of voting on Saturday, 9 December. 19 districts with 89 assembly seats were part of this phase. Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, BJP state chief Jitu Vaghani, former state Congress chief Arjun Modhwadia, OBC leader Alpesh Thokor and SC/ST leader Jignesh Melvani are some big names from today’s list of contested seats.

NDTV stated that there were certain allegations about the use of mobile jammers at the place of voting. This was denied by the Chief Electoral Officer, BB Swain. It was not used due to policy guidelines. 397 candidates are ‘Crorepatis’. Pankaj Patel, the Congress candidate from Daskroi constituency is the richest with worth 231.93 crores declared assets. Molti Ba, 106-year-old citizen who witnessed the Dandi March and Civil Disobedience Movement during India’s freedom struggle, was one among the many voters.

India Today informed that 1,085 villagers of Gajadi, in Morbi district did not vote this time. They were upset about the lack of delivery of poll promises. The village lacks the basics of bijli, sadak and paani (electricity, roads and water). They complained that neither the BJP nor the Congress paid heed to their plea.  Hardik Patel mentioned, “I will join the Congress if it suites the needs of the Patidar community. I feel Rahul Gandhi has matured as a fine politician.”

The second phase is scheduled for 14 December. Results will be announced on 18 December. Gujarat has been the election laboratory for the country. BJP is eyeing to continue its political reign in Gujarat, while Congress sees it as a litmus test and wants to make a comeback.

Sources – India Today, NDTV

Ockhi drifts away from Gujarat, Surat safe

Over 3,200 people were evacuated from 29 coastal villages in Surat on dangers of wreckage similar to Goa. According to the Meteorological Centre, cyclone Ockhi has started to weaken and may not hit south Gujarat. The deep depression has drifted at 18/kmph in east central Arabian Sea, 240 kms away from Surat. This has caused rainfall and high speed winds across Gujarat and some parts of Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

Officials said that that security forces- NDRF, BSF, Army, Navy, and Coast Guard have been alerted

“It is very likely to move north-northeastwards, weaken further and cross south Gujarat. There is a bright chance the cyclone may not hit south of Gujarat. The system weakened primarily because it’s winter and the sea surface near the coast is colder. The story would have been different if it were the monsoon or pre-monsoon season.” Jayanta Sarkar, director of the MeT office said.

Although the cyclone has become weak, the state administration has been prepared to meet any eventuality.

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani traveled to Surat and took a review meeting of all arrangements to deal with the situation. He reassured via Tweet that everything is under control and they are well prepared to counter any adversities.

Sources- Indian Express, Business Standard

The Sardar Sarovar Dam: Engineering Miracle or Failure?

Narendra Modi inaugurated the Sardar Sarovar Dam, which is the world’s second largest dam on his 67th birthday, on September 17, 2017. He claimed that no other project in the world had faced so many obstacles and that the initiative had overcome numerous hurdles to finally be made. Present at Dabhoi, Gujarat, he dedicated the dam – which he called an “engineering miracle” – to the nation. The dam is supposed to provide power and water to 9,000 villages to the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

At the same time, miles away in a village in Madhya Pradesh, thousands carried out a ‘Jal Satyagraha’ – a protest sitting barefoot in water. The reason for this protest? They believed that the water from the dam will displace 40,000 families because their homes will be submerged. The protesters are led by activist and Narmada Bachao Andolan founder Medha Patkar. The protest had begun on Friday on the banks of Narmada at Chota Barda village in Dhar, about 300 km from Bhopal. The water level has been rising there constantly and has already submerged Nisarpur and Rajghat.

The highest embankment on a river in the country is built on the Narmada river and is expected to change the fortunes of Gujarat. However, since the foundation stone of this project was laid in 1961 by Jawaharlal Nehru, it has wrapped up in myriad controversies.

In September 1988, many environmentalists, social workers and scientists sent a memorandum to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi asking him to reconsider environmental clearance granted to the project. Activists have since been demanding that the filling of water in the dam be stopped and the games opened so that the water level reduces.

Patkar, who had visited the areas expected to be submerged by the river project in 1985, submitted her critique of the project, saying that the people who were to be displaced had not been rehabilitated or informed properly about the issues. She also demanded that the water filling be stopped till rehabilitation is undertaken and compensation paid to the families, which however has not happened despite a Supreme Court order. She also took her case to the World Bank, which stoped funding the project in 1994. Modi himself has talked about the opposition to the construction of the dam from the World Bank. When the financial institution stopped giving money to the project, the temples of Gujarat donated money to it.

Narmada Bachao Andolan had approached the apex court over the environmental issues posed by the dam and received a stay in 1996, although eventually in 2000, work was allowed to resume with some restrictions in October 2000. When her efforts failed, she led the NBA and undertook several fasts for weeks along with Baba Amte, another veteran activist.

Modi is right when he says that the project has progressed despite problems. In 2000, the SC allowed the government to increase the height of the dam to 90-metres, which kept increasing till it reached its current and final height of 138.68 metres.

The dam thus holds in its stead both expectations of development as well as the fear of displacement and the lack of compensation for the people of India. It also sits high as a symbol of the failure of the Narmada Bachao Andolan. While Patkar’s Jal Satyagraha movement carries on, so does some iota of rehabilitation and compensation, albeit slowly.

Sources: NDTV, India Today

Shankarsinh Vaghela Quits Congress; Claims that he was thrown out of the Party

Shankarsinh Vaghela, former chief ministers of Gujarat, said that he quit the Congress on July 21, 2017. This statement was made just a day after he claimed that he had been thrown out of the party and was spotted sporting a saffron scarf.

According to The Hindu, Vaghela said that he was a ‘victim of internal conspiracy in BJP and now in Congress’.

Vaghela went on to say that he was expelled from the Congress because they were worried regarding what he might say during his birthday celebrations.

In a report by the Economic Times, Vaghela was unhappy that the Congress had not declared him as the front runner of the party’s campaign in Gujarat as well as the chief ministerial candidate in the upcoming party elections.

There has been reported internal strife in the Congress party after Vaghela criticized Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi.

Regarding the matter, a Congress spokesperson, Randeep Surjewala told NDTV, “Congress regrets a veteran leader of his stature resigning.” He went on to say, “He wanted to be made the party’s state president. But no party can comply with this request. It’s something that the party must decide and cannot be left to individuals”

 

Sources-

  1. The Hindu-http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/shankarsinh-vaghela-quits-congress-wont-join-bjp/article19324073.ece
  2. The Economic Times-http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/congress-expelled-me-24-hours-ago-says-rebel-shankarsinh-vaghela/articleshow/59698011.cms

3000 cheated in Mount Abu Ponzi scam

Arbuda Credit Co-operative Society Ltd. in Mount Abu has come under the eye of Rajasthan and Gujarat police for allegedly cheating 3000 members in both the states. In the last few days, four FIRs have been filed in Rajasthan and 12 in Gujarat against this company. A few days ago, a similar incident took place in Noida wherein a scam worth 3,700 was busted.

According to earlier reports, the Ponzi scam is worth 100 crores. The co-operative society is said to have collected 50 crores each as deposits from 47 branches in Gujarat and Mount Abu head office respectively.

The two main suspects, in this case, are Rakesh Agarwal and his wife Asha Agarwal, who are absconding sinceJanuary 20, this year. A day before, the couple had made an announcement in the newspapers that they will be returning all the maturity amounts to all the stakeholders. With many lucrative offers of soft loans and investment plans, the co-operative society, which was founded in 2012, trapped many innocent people.

On Sunday, Hard disks, laptops and files were recovered from the head office in Mount Abu. Simultaneously, Gujarat police has also set up a special team, that is investigating the case in the state. The scam was unearthed in the wake of demonetization, as many people started demanding their money back.

Sources: TOI, Inuth

Gujarat Wins Maiden Ranji Trophy Title

Parthiv Patel played a captain’s knock and scored a stupendous 143, leading the Gujarat team to their first-ever win in the Ranji Trophy tournament. They beat defending champions Mumbai by five wickets at the final in Indore on Saturday, January 14.

Gujarat resumed the day at 47 for no loss and managed to have down the target within half an hour of the final session of play. Parthiv Patel’s attacking game on Day 5 of the final helped his team chase down the formidable target that Mumbai had set them. The unbeaten centurion had also scored a 90 in the first innings, Gujarat’s top-score. This gave Gujarat a crucial 100-run lead, having earlier restricted Mumbai to 228.

Parthiv Patel was awarded the Man of the Match award for his game. Incidentally, this match also saw him score his 25th first-class century. ”It was fantastic. Winning Ranji Trophy for Gujarat was a dream for all of us. Glad that I could score a century”, said Patel.

This is the highest final run chase in the history of the game, with the previous best being 310 by Hyderabad vs Nawanagar in 1937 – 38. With this win, Gujarat has joined an elite list of teams like Holkar, Delhi, Karnataka and Haryana as the only teams to defeat Mumbai in a Ranji Trophy final. Mumbai was looking to win the title for the 42nd time.

 

Sources: News 18, India Today, NDTV Sports