A key witness in the murder case of RTI activist Amit Jethwa has moved the Gujarat High Court seeking a transfer of the investigation of his son’s kidnapping in 2018 from Una police to the CBI.
Dharmendragiri Balugiri Goswami, a key witness in the high-profile case, was among the 26 witnesses who were re-examined by a special CBI court in Ahmedabad during Jethwa's murder trial. In 2018, Goswami’s son was kidnapped while he was deposing in court, forcing him to turn hostile.
The petitioners, who include Goswami and Jethwa’s father, Bhikhabhai Jethwa, are represented by advocates Anand Yagnik and Bhavyaraj Gohil. They have sought that the Gujarat HC directs a transfer of the investigation either to the CBI or a transfer of the Una investigation to an IG rank officer of the Gujarat cadre.
Goswami, a resident of Una in Gujarat's Gir Somnath district, approached the Gujarat High Court on June 10 this year, pleading that the kidnapping case of his son be transferred from Una police to the CBI. A businessman who has his business in Diu has allegedly put pressure from the Diu local administration to quash the FIR pertaining to his son’s kidnapping as well.
The court, after hearing the matter, issued notice to the central and state government, the CBI and Diu’s collector among other officials of Gujarat regarding the matter.
“During the deposition as a prosecution witness, son of (Goswami) was kidnapped as part of threat, coercion and duress and to set an example as to what would happen if the witness deposes as per the statement given by him to the police. During the deposition in the court premises outside the courtroom, (Goswami) was threatened by particular individuals at the instance of accused Dinu Solanki and his nephew Pratap alias Shiva Solanki (sic),” read the petition.
The petition further read: “The ongoing investigation by the Una police station is farce and extremely unfair and non-transparent. Una police station, along with Diu police station are carrying out all extraneous and extra-legal and other pressures including threat, coercion, duress and destruction of the business of the petitioner if Goswami does not agree to quashing of the FIR (sic).”
Notably, the special CBI court that had found former BJP MP Dinu Bogha Solanki and his nephew Shiva Solanki guilty of murdering Amit Jethwa, had noted the incident in its final verdict in July 2019. The court had then directed that Mukesh Sharma and Satishkumar Chaudhary, investigating officers in the Jethwa murder case, carry out a joint inquiry and submit a report to the court and to the respective departments within six to eight weeks. The court had further said that “if the offence is found to have committed then arrangement should be made to take further action in the matter”.
Subsequently, a joint inquiry was conducted by the CBI and the Gujarat police and the report had concluded and stated that “prima facie it is established that Dinu Solanki, Shiva Solanki and others had committed offences punishable for criminal conspiracy, threatening another person, kidnapping and abduction”.
However, no FIR was registered by the CBI following the report. The Additional Director General of Police CID crime unit, Gujarat, had directed Una police station to lodge an FIR that was registered in March 2020.
The final chargesheet was filed in September 2020 and named only one Usman Kazi as the only accused who had physically kidnapped Goswami’s son. The other details concluded by joint inquiry report were not mentioned in the chargesheet.
The Amit Jethwa Murder Case
Amit Jethwa, an RTI activist, was a resident of Khambha, a small village of Amreli district in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat. He belonged to a middle-class joint family and lived in a house where Jethwa and his three siblings were born and raised until Amit, the eldest son and the sole earner of the family, was shot dead on July 20, 2010, in front of the Gujarat High Court in Ahmedabad.
In 2007, Jethwa had exposed the mysterious deaths of lions in Gir forest and uncovered a big lion-poaching gang. The same year, he contested the assembly election against Dinu Bogha Solanki from Kodinar (Junagadh) but Solanki won. In 2008, Jethwa began seeking information regarding illegal mining through RTIs and was brutally attacked and had to be hospitalised for three months with serious injuries. Following the attack, Jethwa, his wife and two children left Khambha and shifted to Ahmedabad. In 2010, he filed a PIL on the basis of evidence he had sought through RTIs and named Solanki in it.
After Jethwa’s murder, the emotionally and financially broken family began getting threats as Bhikhabhai Jethwa, his father, decided to pursue the case. Over the years, all members of the Jethwa family, except Bhikhabhai, had to move out of Khambha for security reasons and earning a livelihood.
“I received around a dozen threats just after he (Amit) died, warning me to not file a complaint. My wife was threatened and my son-in-law was attacked. They even attempted to lure me with money,” Bhikhabhai Jethwa had told Newsclick earlier.
As the trial began, 105 out of 195 witnesses turned hostile. Bhikhabhai moved the HC seeking a fresh trial on the grounds that the majority of witnesses had turned hostile and added that he had been receiving threats. The Court ordered a fresh trial and also ordered a change of the special judge who was presiding over the case.
In response, Dinu Solanki moved the Supreme Court challenging the Gujarat HC's order for retrial. On October 30, 2017, the apex court cancelled Solanki’s bail, ordering him to surrender immediately and also allowed re-examination of 26 other witnesses when key witness Goswami was deposed and his son was kidnapped during the deposition.
The special CBI court that re-examined the 26 witnesses found former BJP MP Dinu Bogha Solanki, who is considered to be a close aide of Amit Shah, and six others guilty of the murder of RTI activist Amit Jethwa. The seven accused, including Bahadursinh Vader, a police constable, Shiva Solanki, nephew of Dinu Solanki, Sanjay Chauhan, Sailesh Pandya, Pachan Desai and Udaiji Thakore were tried under section 302 (murder), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence), 120B (criminal conspiracy to commit an offence) of the Indian Penal Code and 25(1) of Arms Act (illegal possession of arms or ammunition).