(Observations and findings of PUCL investigation team)
On 5th April, 2013, a team of Peoples’ union for Civil Liberties (PUCL – Gujarat) went to Rajkot for Fact Finding of the incident of Self immolation by five persons of a Nepali family in Rajkot. The incident took place at Municipal Corporation premises, in the presence of number of securities, officers and visitors of Rajkot municipal corporation. The whole episode was over within a span of less than 10 minutes as private visuals and RMC Close circuit TV footages shows.
On the third day of the incidence, the PUCL team met varied sections of people including the family members of the deceased people, Municipal Commissioner and Deputy Municipal Commissioner of Rajkot Municipal corporation, Security personnels, Eye witnesses of the incident, journalists, residents of Chhotunagar society, Rajkot Police Commissioner, eminent citizens, etc. and questioned them on the basis of the information obtained from the media reports and other public sources
On 3rd April 2013, seven members of a family in Rajkot attempted self immolation in Rajkot Municipal Corporation. Out of these, three members, Sh. Bharatbhai Mansingh Vishwakarma(Age 40), Sh. Girishbhai Mansingh Vishwakarma( Age 25) and Sh. Ashaben Bharatbhai Vishwakarma(Age 35) died almost by the time they were taken to the hospital. Sh. Basmatiben Mansinghbhai Vishwakarma(Age 60) and Sh. Rekhaben Mahendrabhai Vishwakarma(Age 30) struggled but died on 6th April in the Burns ward of Civil Hospital, Rajkot. While Sh. Gauriben Girishbhai Vishwakarma and Sh. Shantaben were saved.
Sh. Mansingbhai Vishwakarma, the father of victims Bharatbhai and Girishbhai, used to stay with his family in the common plot of Chhotunagar Society, Nr. Amrapali Cinema, Rajkot, earlier than 1980. The Chhotunagar society had given this place to stay as he was providing security to the society. He built a hutment in the premises with the permission of society members, the electricity and water connection was provided by the society, both the connections were in the name of society office bearers of that time. Mansinghbhai used to serve as the security of the society, he died three years back. While Sh. Basmatiben and other lady members of the family used to do household chores in the houses of the society members till the incidence took place.
Three years back, Sh. Mansinghbhai died of heart attack. After his death, the remaining members of the family were allegedly pressurized by the society members to vacate the place. That resulted in bitterness in the relationship between the family and present office bearers of the society.
Meanwhile, some part of old house of the family was broken and in its place, they started construction of new wall to support to old structure. Some of office bearers of the society and municipal councilors Mr. Rajbhai Zala and Mr. Mirani represented to the Rajkot Municipal Corporation to stop the construction of new wall. Rajkot Municipal Corporation gave notice to the family and with immediate effect the water connection by RMC and electricity connection by Society were withdrawn since August 2012. Against the notice of RMC the family moved to Civil Court. As remaining members of family said that, they were being harassed by many calls at very odd time like late night, at the time of lunch and dinner by RMC town planning staff, other RMC staff members and some unknown persons. Many a times they used to visit the place and male members of family using RMC vehicles and staff to threatened the family with abusive words. These were happening frequently while the case was going on in the court.
The Civil Court dismissed the plea of Nepali family on 23rd of March, and they were allegedly not only pressurized but also threatened in person and also by telephone by various people to vacant the land. The family claims that these persons include society members, the staff of Municipal Corporation and Town Planning, Police Personnel as well as the local Corporators. The harassment level went to such an extent that the family came to the Municipal Corporation premises to complain against the harassment by the RMC staff , the municipal commissioner Mr. Bhadu was out of office, the deputy commissioner Mr. Kotwal refused to hear them with insulting words. They felt that they have lost all hopes to get justice, then they self immolated themselves in front of the Municipal Commissioner office.
With this background, the team members of P.U.C.L.-Sh. Balendrabhai Vaghela, Sh. Kamleshbhai Bhavsar, Sh. Bhavik Raja and Sh. Rimmi Vaghela, interrogated some people and could get the following information:
Madhura (Daughter of Sh.Bharatbhai Nepali who died by Self immolation)
According to Madhura, her grandfather Sh. Mansinghbhai Nepali was serving as security of the Chhotunagar Society since approximately last 50 years. Three years back, he died by heart attack. From that time onwards, society residents have started their harassment. Among those who were harassing, she could name Lalitbhai, resident of ‘Ashirwad ‘, Rajyaguru, Dushyantbhai, etc.
She further said that they were harassed to vacate the place. No written notice has been served, but they were threatened time and again. They had water and electricity supply. Those connections were also cut since last six months. She said that some people used to call her father on his mobile even at midnight and threaten.
On asking she said that among those who called her father were Jhala and Mirani. Her father and uncle’s mobiles are still missing after their death. They are two sisters and five brothers. She is eldest and studying in the 12th std. other brothers and sisters are also studying. Her grandmother Basmatiben, Age 55 and Aunt Rekhaben, Age 28 are still serious and admitted to Burns Ward of Rajkot Civil Hospital. (Both of them died while the report was being prepared). Congress has given them Rs.1 lakh each. They have many times registered complaint in Gandhigram, Amrapali, and other police stations. Once she herself has gone. But no action has been taken. Initially they exerted normal pressure. But the society people then started doing lot of pressure on us. My Uncle returned home just one month back and now he is dead. No tax bills but light bill used to come.
Elderly people used to send us out before they discuss within themselves. She says even if I die, I seek justice. I don’t need money, I need my parents and family members back.
Joshnaben Bhatti (volunteer of Nari suraksha, a women organisation)
According to Sh. Joshnaben’s claim, the 11 volunteers of their organisation are continuously standing with the victim family and helping them. she said that pressure on Doctors, Hospital staff, Police, Family members, volunteers of Naari Suraksha Samiti etc. was being exerted by higher authorities for signing. The volunteers are threatened to leave the place. The Police personnel are saying that if you don’t sign then we will declare the dead bodies unidentified. The third brother Mahendrabhai was missing yesterday evening.
When he returned, he said he was threatened on one hand and offered 20 lakh rupees on the other hand.
Gauriben (Wife of Girishbhai Vishwakarma)
I demand that we want justice. She said that last night before the incident somebody called on Bharatbhai’s mobile. The society residents always used to threaten them. That bookseller used to say, “Want to fight?” Even the Municipal Corporation Staff used to come and threaten in very abusive language like “Go away. Land is not your father’s.” Girishbhai used to do job and then left job. No notice used to come. One one car used to come. We had been complaining to Police many a times. They took complain, used to assure help but did not take any action. When our water and light connections were cut, that time also we along with Nepali Samaj people went to police. But they did not take action. Mahendrabhai, the youngest son is not having any job. She said that they are staying at that place even before the society was constructed. She emphatically said that what has been published in newspaper as dying declaration is not truth. They doubt that they were not in the situation to talk so many things. They would have never said that police has not harassed them. Because even police was also harassing them time and again.
It came in the newspaper that all were frustrated by the harassment to such an extent, but that is not true. There is some game within it. It was to such an extent that her mother in law Basmatiben and her husband Girishbhai had developed high blood pressure. No body came to save. It is shocking. She also claimed that it is not self immolation. Somebody else has put them on fire. When she tried to save them, she was held and resisted. And somebody said that you don’t worry, we will save them. I could not see the face of my husband, could not even give a sip of water. Even I had kerosene and petrol. Kerosene alone cannot catch this much fire. Somebody might have put petrol in it. Corporation staff did not come for help and rather they closed the door.
Meenaben (Family relative from Bombay)
She supported Sh. Gauriben’s claim that it is not self immolation but they are being killed. She said that C.C.T.V. camera were kept off to conceal the facts. We want justice for the remaining people of family. If necessary, you please take representation even up to Delhi. One can do immolation, how all can do that. Rather if one has done immolation others will go to save.
Ajay Bhadu (Municipal Commissioner, Rajkot Municipal Corporation)
Sh. Ajay Bhadu said that on the day of incident he was not present in the office but was reported about the incident on his return. As he was not present, the family went to meet Deputy Municipal Commissioner, Mr Kotwal. Talking about the detail of the case he said that municipal corporation has regulating authority over private construction. Accoding to General Development and Control Rules, all society have to keep atleast 10% of their total area as common plot. Regarding common plot or any encroachment over it, it is society’s deal. Municipal Corporation can only give notice in the case of any construction over the common plot. And so in spite of repeated complaints by the residents of the society, Minicipal Corporation took the stand that it is internal matter of the society and Municipal Corporation cannot interfere. The residents of the society also represented to the Collector Office and other authorities from where the directions to act came. But yet the stand of Municipal Corporation did not change. He said that there is a provision for the Municipal Corporation in such cases only if the residents of the society hand over the common plot to Municipal Corporation.
He claimed that the Municipal Corporation came into the picture only when the Nepali family started construction in that plot. The residents of the society gave written complain one year back and so on the bases of that Municipal Corporation gave a primary notice to the Nepali family in May-2012 to which the family replied. Again in August-2012, final notice was given which was to be mandatorily replied within one week. Against this notice the family went to civil court. Meanwhile in spite of continued complains of the residents, Municipal Corporation took the stand to wait for the civil court judgment. The civil court dismissed the application on 22nd March.2013. Yet Municipal Corporation decided to wait for getting the written judgment in their hands. Ironically they got this written judgment in the evening of 3rd April.
He accepted that the local Corporators accompanied with the residents of the society once or twice during their representation to the Municipal Corporation. Now that civil court had dismissed the appeal, it might have created frustration for the family. Further, the residents of the society gave it in media. Due to condition created, the family might have felt depressed and have taken the recourse to such extreme step. When we questioned him that as builders get chance to regularize their illegal construction by paying impact fee cannot this be applicable to this poor family? He replied that technically it could have been applicable if their construction would have been done before March-2011. We asked him that the family had water connection as well as electricity connection, are they not sufficient to prove their legal possession. He replied that water connection was taken in the name of society and not in the personal name of the family. Further even if the family gets tax bill on their name yet that does not prove their possession. He said that the 5 lakh rupees each as compensation to the family is being announced by the Municipal Corporation on humanitarian ground. He also assured that as long as the family is in the stage of distress, the Status Quo will be maintained.
He said that the family entered the Municipal corporation premises from the back side-from unofficial door. So our security personnel could not notice them.
Mr M.M. Kotwal (deputy Municipal Commissioner, Rajkot Municipal Corporation)
Mr M.M. Kotwal claimed that on the day of incident no one had come to make representation before him from Chhotunagar society. At the time of incident he was in the meeting in his own office with Tax Officers Sh. Kagathara. Sh. Rupareliya Sh. Prajapati and Account Officer Sh Nandani. On hearing some noise he came out of his to find out what is happening but one of his staff member closed the common glass door for his security. Peeping through the glass he could see nothing else but lot of smoke. He opened the door to inquire further but as lot of smoke started entering the office he was compelled to close the door. He returned to his office and called 108 ambulance as well as fire brigade. The other officer of Municipal Corporation sitting with him during our visit informed us that 108 ambulance always remained ready in our own premises and fire brigade is just adjacent to their office.
We further inquired with the security personnel, the visitors of the Municipal Corporation Office as well as Sh. Naranbhai Madhubhai who tried to save the victims on the day of incident with the help of his own shirt. While the security personnel claimed that the victims brought cans of Kerosene. Naranbhai claimed that they brought fuel in the pouch. All of them could not say clearly whether the fuel used was Kerosene or Petrol or any other object.
Sh. Ranchhodbhai Dobariya (Resident of Chhotunagar Society)
According to Sh. Ranchhodbhai Dobariya’s claim he was the first person to construct house even before the society was set up. Few years after some rooms were there outside the peripheri of society where Sh. Masingbhai were taken shelter. He used to remain very sick and so residents of society decided to give him shelter in the common plot of the society and in this manner ten years after he came to the society Sh. Mansingbhai started staying in a small hutment with his family approximately in the year of 1990. He used to work as security of the society. We used to help his family by providing grains, oils etc. Society has decided to give him a fix amount of salary. We had very intimate relationship with the family. And the family was very dissent and there was no nuisance. Only the youngest of the son Mahendrabhai was liquar addict and used to drink liquar with his circle sometimes. But otherwise no other nuisance was created by them. When a skim was announced for housing on Sadhu Vaswani Road, the society members helped all three sons of Mansinghbhai to get a house each by draw system. There had been no pressure or threate from society members on the family. But only when they started new construction, all the problems occurred. but still then no one used to enter their premises only the people whose name they have given used to take photographs of the progress of the new construction. But that too from outside the premises. If they have not demolished their old structure and started construction of newer one, there were no controversy at all. And yet society has never said them to vacat the place. They have only objected the new construction. Ranchhodbhai strongly feels that they have taken such extreme step only dye to somebody’s instigation otherwise no other such factors were present.
Nizamuddinbhai Ansari(Resident of Adjacent Society of Chhotunagar, his house is just opposite to the desputed land)
Nizamuddinbhai claims that he started saying in the society since 1983 that is about 32 years back. At that time Mansinghbhai was already staying with his family and doing security of the Chhotunagar Society. He did not know much detail of the despute but he feels that they would have taken such extreme steps because of harassment only.
We could not contact Sh. Ghanshyambhai Pandya, executive member of the committee of the society.
Mansukhbhai Joshi (Educanionist, First appointed Mayor of Rajkot Municipal Corporation and eminent citizen)
Mansukhbhai said the citizens of Rajkot are very much disturbed by the incident. As the Municipal Corporation is not paying any heed to a common people’s cause, the people are very much frustrated. This incident is the highest expression of such frustration. He also repented that the people are becoming so selfish that while making housing skims, they do not make any provisions for their service class like security, scavengers, domestic workers, etc. He also felt regretted that in such condition we are not being able to do anything actively to check such incidents. But he assured that we will provide as much financial help as possible to the remaining family members and try to ensure that the education of all the children do not suffer.
H.P.Singh (Police Commissioner, Rajkot)
Sh.H.P.Singh said that the investigation is going on. We are trying to gather the evidence. Media and other people give stress on arrest but our focus is on gathering the evidances. He accepted that in the past written complains were done in different police station from both the sides and necessary actions were taken by the police. He said that even if the lost mobile of Sh. Bharatbhai and Sh. Baratbhai, we will opting call details from the company.
SOME MISSING LINKS
- In the conversation with most of the people, we felt that all of them did not believe it to be natural incident. They felt that somebody might have instigated them to do so. The family has not given any such ultimatum to any concerned people family member, relatives or authorities of taking such step.
- The people in large number were present. Police personnel and media persons were also present. The full shots have been taken of the entire incident. The timing of the incident is near about 12.00 noon, the busiest hour in any of the offices. It doesn’t seem natural that no one came to save them.
- According to Gauriben’s claim, when she tried to go instinctively to rescue her husband, she was stopped and someone assured her that we will save them, you don’t worry. But no attempts of saving can be seen from the footage of the media coverage. Then who and why would have assured her so?
- The disputed land was the common plot. It is road touch. The land of the society is said to be worth crores of rupees. Is there any role of land mafias in the whole episode to grab the land?
- According to the family, they have done police complaints repeated number of times, even sometimes in written. The police assured them to take action. But no actions have been taken to check the threat. Why? Was there any pressure on Police?
- Family members strongly feel that it is not self immolation. According to them, “ a big Game” has been played with them in this incident. What is the root of such belief? What can that probable “Game” be?
- The fire extinguisher was very near to the place of incident. Even ladies toilet was nearby, where one of the lady went after being immolated. Why no one tried to use the fire extinguisher or water from the bathroom.
- Even the offices of Standing Committee Chairman, Opposition leader, etc. were nearby the incident. What was the status of those offices? What actions were taken by them?
- When some people are self immolating, how can Deputy Municipal Commissioner close the door of his office from inside?
- No one is yet clear whether it was kerosene or Petrol that was used?
- How so many people(7 in number) with inflammable thing like Kerosene could enter the premises where the security companies are so large in number that even Municipal Commissioner doesn’t know the number?
- The fire brigade is just adjacent to the premises. Yet it took long time to reach. And reached only to find that owing to lower level pillars at the entrance of the Municipal Corporation office, it is not possible for their vehicle to enter.
- The video footage shows that even when ambulance arrived, the staff of ambulance is not taking the victims in stretchers. They are waiting for them to use all their energy to reach the ambulance. The staff is waiting down. And they take them to the stretcher only after they collapse. Is this the emergency service?!
- Up till now, the names of two local Municipal Corporators have come-Sh. Kamleshbhai Mirani and Sh. Rajbha Jhala in the dying declaration of the victims. Police has neither arrested them, nor even interrogated them. What can be the reason?
- Today(11 April, 2013), C.C.T.V. footage of the Municipal Corporation office revealed the suspicious presence of the B.J.P. Councillor Sh. Narendrabhai Solanki during the time of the incident. It was also found from the mobile call details of Sh. Bharatbhai Vishwakarma that on the previous night, i.e. on 2ndApril and even on the day of the incident i.e. on 3rd April, before the incident, number of phone calls have been done by Sh. Narendrabhai and from the office of Standing Committee Chairman. Why did police not make any arrest and only interrogated even after such substantial evidence?
- If so many conversations happened before the incident, why the victims did not mention them in their dying declarations?
- Were dying declarations of the other two victims who died on 6th April taken or not?
- The members of the ruling BJP were so sure of the innocence of their Corporators, that they took out procession in their support. Then why is it that the Chief Minister did not make any statement in the incident? Why the Chief Minister, Speaker or even the Governor not even said a word of condolence to the victim family?
These are the questions that are yet to be answered. It is very difficult to conclude in such situation. May be follow up interrogation, if possible, might help us to conclude. In any manner, our conclusion lies in the answer of the above mentioned questions.
Looking to the Seriousness of the problem, we demand a high power committee headed by retired high court judge should be formed to investigate whole episode thouroughly to find out some missing links as mentioned above.
Balendra Vaghela Kamlesh Bhavsar Saurashtra – Kuttchh Lokhit Advocate (Ahmedabad)
Sangharsh Samiti (Rajkot)
Bhavik Raja Rimmi Vaghela
Democratic Student Organization All India Mahila Sanskritik Sangathan
MEMBERS OF PUCL INVESTIGATION TEAM
————————————————————————————————————Report Released by
Gautam Thaker – General Secretary – PUCL (Gujarat) M.09825382556