Sunday, September 26, 2010

BJP MP quizzed for RTI activist's murder

BJP MP quizzed for RTI activist's murder
Times of India By Prashant Dayal

The city crime branch finally reached BJP MP from Junagadh, Dinu Solanki, in the RTI activist Amit Jethava murder case.

According to sources, the MP has been interrogated by the investigating agency, which believes Solanki was connected with the murder as per the evidence gathered during investigation. However, Solanki has denied the charges.

Sources also said that the MP's name cropped up during the interrogation of his nephew Shiva Solanki, who was taken to police remand after his arrest last month. During his questioning, he reportedly gave many details about Jethava's killing.

The crime branch is still looking for two persons allegedly involved in the killing, Shailesh Pandya and his associate, who are believed to be present on the spot, where Jethava was shot dead.

Jethava was killed on July 20 evening in front of the Gujarat high court campus on SG Highway.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Gujarat Tourism changes its logo, Gir lion replaces Toran

Gujarat Tourism changes its logo, Gir lion replaces Toran
Desh By Japan K Pathak

Gujarat Tourism Corporation has changed its symbol almost silently. The earlier logo of Gujarat Tourism was 'Toran' which is tied at the entrance of Gujarati houses to welcome the guests. However the logo of 'Toran' has been replaced by a new logo that features side-face of Gir Lion.

New logo has replaced the old one not in Amitabh Bachchan ads promoting Gujarat Tourism. Gujarat Tourism's official website too features a new logo, replacing the old one.

Gujarat Tourism was set up in late 1970s. It's logo of Toran was created by Ahmedabad based National Institute of Design. However over the years, need of change in the logo was felt.

While Kerala features green coconut tree, sea, and boat in its logo, Goa also does similar, Rajasthan Tourism features colors in its logo promoting Holi. Madya Pradesh Tourism features Tiger in its logo. But Gujarat's old Toran logo was promoting nothing. Thus it was decided by the tourism department to high lite the leading tourism product that Gujarat uniquely owns, and obvious choice was the Gir lion that is found only in Gujarat.

A logo with saffron side-face of lion has also some traditional textile block printing style design in it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Two cubs rescued from well

Two cubs rescued from well
Divya bhasker
Briefly translated from Gujarati

Incidence happened yesterday night at Hemal village of Jafrabad taluka. Two cubs, 5 months old, while playing and with mother fell in to well full of water. Mother started roaring. This alerted farmer Nanabhai Kalabhai Vavaliya. He threw khatlo (rope bed) inside the well. Cubs climbed on it and stayed on it for 6 hours. Later forest team rescued them.

Big B a big boost for Gujarat tourism

Big B a big boost for Gujarat tourism
The Pioneer By Maya Bhushan

After Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Amitabh Bachchan is now bolstering the fortunes of Gujarat, or so Gujarat Tourism officials feel.

"After Bachchan shot his ad film, promoting Gujarat Tourism at the Gir sanctuary recently, a Taj group hotel which was closed for nearly nine year, decided to open up," Gujarat's Tourism Secretary Vipul Mitra told reporters in Panaji on Saturday, explaining that tourism in the State swelled by more than 30 per cent as compared to last year.

Mitra, along with Gujarat Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) chairman Kamlesh Patel, is in Goa as part of a Gujarat Tourism roadshow.

Big B had shot a series of advertisements to promote tourism in Gujarat with Khushboo Gujarat ki (Fragrance of Gujarat) as the theme.

The ads, with Big B urging people to visit the Gir sanctuary, Rann of Kutch, Somnath Temple and other tourism sites, are a big hit, Mitra said.

"Amitabh Bachchan has made a huge difference. There is tremendous amount of interest generated in the places where he has shot the promotional videos," Mitra added.

"Hotels in Somnath and Dwarka are also registering an increase in the number of tourists since the ads were aired," he said.

"We hope he will be with us for a long time. It was not tough at all to rope him in. Our Chief Minister spoke to him and he agreed immediately," he said.

Nearly 1.65 crore tourists visited Gujarat this year, which included nearly two lakh foreigners, Mitra informed.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Who will protect the whistleblower?

Who will protect the whistleblower?
Times of India By Manoj Mitta

About a month after activist Amit Jethava was murdered, the Central government came up with a legislative proposal to prevent such tragic killings. The dead man was an environmentalist and died because he campaigned to save Gujarat's Gir lion reserve from the ravages of illegal mining. The Bill introduced in the Lok Sabha on August 26 expanded the definition of whistleblower. It said anyone who makes a "public interest disclosure" is a whistleblower.

It was a great leap forward from where we stood till then. Under the 2004 Cabinet resolution, only a public servant could be a whistleblower. But the expanded definition is the only real positive change in the official attitude towards whistleblowing. In other respects, "the public interest disclosure and protection to persons making the disclosure Bill, 2010", to call it by its real name, is anodyne. The Bill's biggest weakness is that it retains the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) as the designated agency or "competent authority" to deal with complaints filed by whistleblowers. The CVC is also meant to protect whistleblowers. Both provisions are carry-overs from the 2004 Cabinet resolution on whistleblowing.

Both carry over the problems of the past into an era meant that is meant to be more free and fair. The CVC, the apex body for all vigilance cases at the Centre, is embroiled in controversy. Moreover, it is a toothless body and can only ever give advice rather than registering a criminal case or issuing any direction to CBI. The CVC's recommendations are routinely rejected by many government departments. The CBI too pays it little heed. In its current form then, the Whistleblower Bill, will make no difference to the culture of impunity in corruption cases. The CVC can only make recommendations when instances of corruption are brought to light by whistleblowers. What use will that be to anyone, particularly a society that wants to clean up?

But there is an even bigger problem with making the CVC the Bill's designating agency. Of late, there is a question mark over its independence. Telecom secretary P J Thomas's September 7 appointment as its head triggered the row. There were allegations that the government appointed Thomas to the CVC in order to shield telecom minister A Raja in the 2G spectrum scam. Just a month before Thomas arrived in his new job, he signed a document that claimed the spectrum allocation was impervious to investigation by any agency because "revenue considerations play a secondary role" in government policy on telecommunications.

Clearly, the Whistleblower Bill's expectations of the CVC are misplaced when it deems the agency trustworthy enough to recommend "appropriate administrative steps for redressing the loss caused to the government as a result of corrupt practice or misuse of office or misuse of discretion". Given the way Thomas sought to justify revenue losses in the 2G spectrum scam, what recommendation would the CVC he heads make if the public servants named by whistleblowers came up with similar arguments in their own defence?

But there is one area in which the Bill empowers the CVC to issue binding orders – protecting whistleblowers from victimization and/or physical attack. It also gives the CVC the authority to issue interim orders to stop any corrupt practice highlighted by the whistleblower. But these limited powers are likely to prove inadequate as long as the CVC remains no more than an advisory body when it comes to sensitive matters such as whether or not a corruption case is to be registered against a public servant.
Experts, the enlightened and the eminent — a loose coalition of concerned citizens — have been asking that the government call a spade a spade and redress the many problems in the anti-corruption mechanism. The group, which includes the Karnataka Lok Ayukta, Santosh Hegde, said nomenclature was irrelevant. Call it CVC or Lok Pal or anything else, but it should have the necessary authority and resources to register cases based on whistleblower complaints. They have a point. The scale of corruption in India calls for an ambitious rethink. Sadly, this Bill is only a tiny step in the right direction. There is a long way to go.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Bachchan's midas touch helps Gujarat Tourism

Bachchan's midas touch helps Gujarat Tourism
Press Trust of India

Having mega star Amitabh Bachchan as its brand ambassador seems to be paying well for Gujarat tourism, a senior officer said today. Gujarat Tourism Secretary Vipul Mittra said the places where Amitabh bachchan visited during his tourism promotion campaign are generating interest amongst the tourists.

"Thousands of people have started visiting places like Somnath Temple or Gir national park where he shot the tourism campaign," he said adding a hotel property owned by Taj in Gir which was closed nine years back is also restarting its operation there.

Mittra said it was not much difficult to convince Big B to be a brand ambassador. "Chief Minister Narendra Modi called him and he immediately agreed," he said.

He Bachchan's association with Gujarat tourism will be a long-term one.

Gujarat tourism department which attracts 1. 65 crore visitors annually has also decided to promote the state as a film shooting destination.

Mittra said the state will be participating in the cinema scape festival scheduled at Mumbai in October. "We have requested Bachchan to be present at the festival," he added.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gir lion finds new home in Zurich

Gir lion finds new home in Zurich


The reverberating snores of a sleeping lion are unmistakable sounds in the Gir Forest, but wholly unfamiliar noises amid the serenity of the Swiss Alps.

On Wednesday, however, the tranquillity of the mountains was disturbed by the deep rumbles of a tired Asiatic lion.

Jasraj, a one-year-old male lion, was in the middle of a royal nap in his enclosure at the Zurich Zoo - oblivious to the fact that an enraptured audience was watching and documenting his every move.

The siesta seemed fitful, however, as Jasraj, who was born in the enclosure, tossed and turned about before finally settling down on a large, uncomfortable-looking boulder.

Jasraj's enclosure, spread over two hectares of land, is modelled on the Gir landscape and also is filled with stimuli from his natural environment such as rocks, jungle herbs, and yes, the smell of prey - anything to help the big guy feel completely at home.

Not that Jasraj was having too much trouble in that department, though.

Monday, September 13, 2010

'Trophy lion' hunts unsustainable

'Trophy lion' hunts unsustainable
BBC Earth News By Matt Walker

Too many lions are killed for sport

Lion and leopard numbers in Tanzania will crash unless fewer big cats are killed by trophy hunters.

Trophy or 'sport' hunting can be used as a conservation measure, with the money hunters pay being used to help protect a wider population of animals.

But even in Tanzania, which is open about how much trophy hunting it allows, too many big cats are being killed and of the wrong age.

So say conservation experts who have published a new study of the industry.

Most countries conduct trophy hunting in a shroud of secrecy
Lion expert Professor Craig Packer
Tanzania holds most of the remaining large populations of African lions (Panthera leo), and also has extensive areas of leopard habitat (Panthera pardus).
Vast areas of the country have been set aside as 'hunting blocks', in which private companies facilitate trophy hunting by tourists.
Strict quotas are set for how many big cats can be taken, and the companies are expected to manage the land and prevent poaching.
Tanzania currently allows about 500 lions and 400 leopards per year to be killed for sport across a total area of 300,000km².

That equates to 1.67 lions per 1000km² and 1.3 leopards per 1000km².
The idea is that allowing a small quota of cats to be hunted will help safeguard the future of the overall population of each species.

Leopard harvests should be capped
But a new study by lion expert Professor Craig Packer of the University of Minnesota, Saint Paul, US and colleagues in the US, UK and Tanzania has found that the rate of trophy hunting of big cats in Tanzania has been too high.

Evidence comes from a survey of lion harvests in the country between 1996 and 2008 which found that the number of lions hunted fell by 50%.

Those hunting blocks that 'harvested' the most lions initially suffered the steepest declines, according to the study published in the journal Conservation Biology.

In contrast, lion numbers remained stable in most tourist areas where hunting is not allowed.
"Hunting off-takes in the late 1990s were unsustainable," Prof Packer told the BBC.
Across the country, the numbers of leopards killed for sport has remained relatively stable, though there have been declines in northwest and around the Serengeti.


Prof Packer and colleagues have established exactly why lions uniquely form prides
Learn more about lions and leopards
It is not clear why, but it could be that hunters are putting more effort into killing leopards as lion numbers fall.
The researchers recommend that new, much smaller hunting quotas are set.
Tanzania should reduce quotas to 0.5 lions and 1.0 leopards per 1000km² per year, the scientists say. Slightly higher quotas would be acceptable in the Selous Game Reserve, the largest contiguous hunting area uninhabited by people.
They also say that only older cats should be hunted.
"It would be best to limit off-takes to male [lions] that are at least 6 years old," says Prof Packer.
"For many years, companies filled their quotas by shooting immature males, and males that were in their prime of life."
That doesn't work, as lions are infanticidal; males that has taken over a pride will kill the offspring of their predecessors, so by removing a breeding male from the pride, his offspring are likely to die too.

Only mature males older than 6 years old should be hunted as part of a quota
"If this happens on a regular basis, recruitment rates plummet and the entire population will decline. By limiting off-takes to older males, the 'ripple effect' from infanticide is minimised," says Prof Packer.
Only leopards that are 7 years or older should be hunted, the researchers recommend.
Although necessary, this might be challenging as leopards are harder than lions to age by sight alone.
If these recommendations aren't met, "trophy harvest will continue to decline and Tanzania will lose potential revenue from sport hunting, thus diminishing the economic rationale for setting aside so much land for conservation," says Prof Packer.
Overall, he says "the Tanzania government should be congratulated for making their harvest data available. Most other countries conduct trophy hunting in a shroud of secrecy. Zimbabwe and Zambia need to join Tanzania in a new spirit of openness."
What is more, Tanzania has adopted new rules designed to enforce the minimum age at which lions can be shot.
But it remains to be seen how the law will be implemented and if exports of lion trophies will be inspected and older lion trophies seized.
"If the age-limit is effectively enforced, lion populations should quickly recover from the effects of past hunting practices," says Prof Packer.


Visit Conservation Biology to read more about the trophy hunting of Tanzania's lions and leopards
However, while some well-financed hunting companies have invested heavily in relatively small reserves, and helped restore them by careful management and preventing poaching, it remains to be seen whether larger scale hunting operations are working, he cautions.
"I fear that companies in most parts of Africa operate on too small of a budget to have the necessary impact to protect more than a tiny fraction of their holdings.
"For example, Tanzania has set aside 300,000 km ²for hunting in about 150 blocks.
"The Selous Game Reserve contains over 40 of these blocks and is the most important hunting area in the country.
"But the government receives inadequate revenue from the hunting companies to pay the salaries of their game scouts."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Where is Dinu Solanki?

Where is Dinu Solanki?
Times of India

Where is BJP MP from Junagadh, Dinu Solanki? A contentious question that has no clear answer as of today. After the arrest of his nephew, Shiva Solanki, the MP has been hard to trace. Repeated attempts made by TOI to contact the MP failed as his mobile phones were switched off.

"Shiva's arrest has proved to be quite revealing. During his interrogation Shiva has given some interesting information. We now have some evidence pointing towards the involvement of a top politician in this regard," said crime branch officials investigating the case. But they were not naming the MP yet.

Jethava, an activist who had exposed the illegal mining mafia in Saurashtra through RTI, was gunned down outside the Gujarat High Court on SG Highway on July 28. Five persons, including Shiva, have been arrested in this regard till date.

"During questioning of Shiva, the primary evidence uncovered by crime branch officials suggest that Shiva is not the only mastermind of Jethava's murder. There are more people involved," said investigating police officials.

Since the name of an MP is now figuring in the list of accused, the cops are being extra careful in approaching this subject. "Without irrefutable evidence we cannot do much in this regard. We hope to gather some more evidence by September 20," said police officials.

From the day of Jethava's murder, Dinu Solanki, has been conspicuous by his absence in Parliament. "Even in Kodinar, he has not been seen publicly for long now," said police sources.

The other person that the cops are gunning for is the historysheeter who shot at Jethava, Sailesh Pandya. He too has been missing since the day of murder.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Woman saves son from leopard

Woman saves son from leopard
Times of India

Timely action by a woman saved the life of her two-and-a-half-year-old son from a leopard in Indroi village near Veraval on Friday night.

According to the forest department, the incident occurred at about 9.30 pm inside the compound of a farmhouse owned by Dinesh Dodiya in Vadi area on Ishwariya Road in the village.

"Doidya's son Dishant was playing in their courtyard, while his family members were taking supper, when a leopard pounced upon him. Seeing this, Dodiya's wife Rasila rushed to her son's rescue, shouting for help. Her cries alerted labourers in the farm who gathered at the site, following which, the big cat left the boy and vanished back into the forest," said round forester VS Aparnathi.

The incident left the boy with claw injuries on his back, following which, he was rushed to the primary health centre, where doctors said his wounds were not serious and would heal soon. Meanwhile, the forest department has installed several cages with live baits in them around different places near the site of the incident to catch the big cat.

"Ishwariya Road is becoming infamous as leopard road, as the sight of the spotted big cats is a common occurrence at sundown," said a source from the forest department.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Indians Seek Transparency Amid Fear


Indians Seek Transparency Amid Fear

The Wall Street Journal By KRISHNA POKHAREL

Violent Incidents Have Increased Against Citizens Making Use of the 2005 Right to Information Act; Pursuing a Remedy

Amit Jethava bombarded officials in the western Indian state of Gujarat for five years with requests for information about the Asiatic lions, spotted deer and wild boar in a nature reserve near his village and the mining activity nearby that was a danger to the wildlife.

In May, Mr. Jethava petitioned the High Court of Gujarat to order the federal and state governments to put a stop to the illegal mining. In July, as he was leaving a meeting with his lawyers in the city of Ahmedabad, he was shot to death. Four men have been arrested in connection with his death, which Ahmedabad police say was in retaliation for his activism.

Dangerous Activism

Atul Loke/Panos for The Wall Street Journal
Amit Jethava's widow, Alpa

The Power of Right to Information

Atul Loke/Panos for The Wall Street Journal
Gangaben, from Tatania village in the Amreli district in Gujarat, used the RTI act to get a free house, which was sanctioned under the Below- Poverty-Line scheme.

More photos and interactive graphics
India's Right to Information Act—a groundbreaking piece of legislation in a nation that struggles with corruption and stifling bureaucracy—allows citizens to request information or data from any government entity except the paramilitary and intelligence departments. Since 2005, when the law was passed, more than one million requests have been filed for information on everything from teacher attendance to money spent on village roads to the age of electronic voting machines.

As the number of ordinary Indians using the law has grown, the number of violent incidents targeting those exercising their "right to information," known as RTI, has escalated, government officials say, threatening to damp voter confidence in one of the signature reforms of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government.

"The number of murders has been mounting and that's a cause for grave concern," says Wajahat Habibullah, India's chief information commissioner. "A remedy has to be found." Parliament is expected to vote later this year on a bill to protect whistleblowers.

Eight individuals seeking information under the law have been killed this year, activists say. Local police are still investigating the deaths. Activists and the families of those killed say there is a clear connection between the killings and the issues the victims were probing. People have been targeted, they say, for uncovering shady deals and illegal activity by politicians, bureaucrats, companies and organized-crime figures. Nonlethal attacks, threats and harassment also are increasing, activists say.

India Real Time

5 of the Slain
Many ordinary Indians have successfully used information from RTI requests to force improvements to problems such as bad tap water and irregularities in public distribution systems, which allow poor families to buy essential commodities at low prices at special government-run stores. Such vigilance has increased the government's responsiveness to common concerns, say many officials and citizens who have used the law.

While various states have RTI activist groups, there is no formal national organization. Most activists are volunteers.

Krishnaraj Rao, a Mumbai-based publishing executive, has joined an informal national group to lobby for the protection of RTI activists. He says at least 12 have been attacked this year in addition to those killed. Activists are afraid to go to the police because in many cases, "local police are way too cozy with the vested interests. The chances are they won't protect the activists but instead expose them," he says.

"Fear diminishes when you seek and find the truth," says Shivaji Raut, a science teacher who has filed more than 180 information requests with the western state of Maharashtra, mainly involving government subsidies to wind power companies. "But you cannot find the truth when the fear for your life ... is so strong."

Mr. Raut says a state government minister, a local businessman and a local bureaucrat all warned him to stop his requests. Last October, someone threw stones at his house, breaking a window.

"Up to that date, there was no fear in my mind," he says. But since then, he has stopped going for his regular morning and evening walks.

Dattatray Patil, a 47-year-old sugarcane farmer in the Kolhapur district, south of Mumbai, used the law to get information about land sold in his town. Mr. Patil discovered that a land dealer had falsely claimed ownership of a piece of land, and filed a complaint. The dealer was convicted of fraud and served a short jail sentence last year.

One evening in May, Mr. Patil, who had received calls demanding that he stop meddling, was beaten to death by eight men at his farm, according to local police.

"He just wanted to have a corruption-free country," said Kshamanand Patil, Mr. Patil's elder brother.

Police arrested the land dealer and eight other men and charged them with murder. The dealer offered money and a new car to each of the eight in exchange for killing Mr. Patil, says Prakash Gaikwad, the police officer investigating Mr. Patil's death.

A lawyer for the land dealer and the eight men says his clients deny the charge. He calls the case police "imagination," and notes that police don't have eyewitnesses to the crime.

All nine men remain in custody.

Atul loke/Panos for The Wall Street Journal
Amit Jethava's children comfort their mother, Alpa, in August after their father was killed, allegedly in retaliation for his right-to-know activism.

Mr. Jethava, who brought the case against illegal mining in Gujarat, was a 34-year-old trained pharmacist who left a government job seven years ago to start the Gir Nature Youth Club, a group promoting the protection of wildlife in the Gir forest reserve, the world's last habitat for Asiatic lions.

L.M. Kandoriya, a public information officer at Gujarat's forest department, says Mr. Jethava submitted queries on everything from the health of lions on the reserve to what the government was doing to protect them from disease.

Through one such query, in April, Mr. Jethava found out that there were more than 50 unauthorized limestone mines near the border of the preserve. The government doesn't allow mining near protected forests because it blocks the movement of wild animals and because animals can fall into open mines.

In May, Mr. Jethava filed his petition with the court, using the information he obtained to argue for intervention to stop the mining.

"He was telling people the truth," says Mr. Kandoriya.

On the evening of July 20, Mr. Jethava was shot dead.

On Tuesday, police in Ahmedabad arrested one mine owner's nephew while he was trying to board a flight from a local airport. Himanshu Shukla, the police officer investigating the case, said the nephew, Shiva Solanki, allegedly received the help of a local police constable in killing Mr. Jethava in retaliation for threatening the mining business.

The constable and two other men from the area whom police allege helped carry out the killing are already in custody, and police are searching for two other men for their alleged involvement in the killing. Mr. Shukla said the police also are investigating the possible role of Mr. Solanki's uncle, Dinubhai Boghabhai Solanki, the mine owner and a member of Parliament, in Mr. Jethava's murder.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Flamboyant Pratap Hamir Solanki was ‘mining czar’ of Kodinar

Flamboyant Pratap Hamir Solanki was 'mining czar' of Kodinar

Pratap Hamir Solanki alias Shiva, the nephew of BJP MP from Junagadh, Dinu Solanki, was known for his lavish lifestyle. He was virtually ruling Kodinar as the vice-president of Kodinar municipality. Sources said Shiva not only had several lucrative businesses in his name, he reportedly also owned other businesses run in the name of his friends and relatives.

"He has a virtual monopoly of the lease business in Kodinar area and earns crores from this business each year," a source in the police told DNA. The source confirmed what others have been saying about Shiva that he never wears ordinary, inexpensive clothes nor does he buy anything of ordinary quality. For him, such inexpensive goods are 'sub-standard', the source said. Apart from the mining business which is the main business in the area, Shiva also has a stranglehold on minor lease mining such as collecting sand from the river bank. "No one can ever enter this business by competing with him," the source said.

Shiva also has a virtual monopoly on the business of cellphone tower construction in Kodinar and Junagadh. "He earns lakhs of rupees from this business," another source said. With Shiva's arrest, the police have made a major breakthrough in their investigation of the case as it may unravel the conspiracy behind the murder of RTI activist Amit Jethava. The RTI activist was killed on July 20 in front of the Gujarat high court in Ahmedabad. Shiva had allegedly paid Rs6 lakh to Bahadursinh Vadher for Jethava's murder.

Right from the day his son was killed. Jethava's father has maintained that Shiva Solanki was responsible for the murder. Shiva had earlier threatened Jethava who had made him one of the respondents in a petition filed by him.

‘Mining halted, but may begin anytime’

'Mining halted, but may begin anytime'

Aliader (Amreli): Abeaten track outside Aliader village leads to the excavated limestone and blackstone mines. Heavy rains have turned them into waterbody filled to the brim. Worse still, the walls have been excavated irregularly and threaten to collapse anytime, endangering the lives of human beings and animals.

All this within the prohibited 5 km periphery of the Gir sanctuary in the Kodinar area of Amreli district.

According to Balu Sosha, a social worker and former mines owner, a flurry of activities that took place before the murder of RTI campaigner Amit Jethava, has suddenly stopped especially because the media took a keen interest in the area. There is one thing common among the various mines that have been dug up, locals say. They allegedly belong to BJP member of Parliament from Amreli Babu Bogha Solanki.

AM reached the site

Nobody wants to be seen leading media persons to the place. Three persons who had assured AM correspondent and photographer of accompanying them to the site of the mines backed out at the last moment, either making excuses or not turning up at the last moment.

When AM team reached the site, there was no activity, but one got a strong feeling that isolated huts and houses along the beaten track belonged to informers of the powerful and feared politician. Shiva Solanki, nephew of Babu Solanki, has been arrested in connection with Jethava's murder bang opposite Gujarat High Court in Ahmedabad.

Sosha claimed the 5-km stretch is a buffer zone and mining activities in this region that include blasting of explosives, shifting of heavy machinery and the constant noise of the machines drive the lions out of the Gir sanctuary from time to time.

'Solanki's writ'

Sosha is close to Dhirsinh Barad, the local Congress MLA, and has been fighting against the mining mafia for several years now. According to Sosha, Dinu Solanki's writ runs large at Pishwa, Ghatwad, Harmadia, Yabalvad, Jamwada, Kausaria and the 15-km stretch where limestone and blackstone are found in abundance.

"He has three huge crushers of one tonne each for crushing limestone and blackstone," Shosha alleges. The mining of stones within 5 km of the Gir periphery is worth crores of rupees and many politicians are involved in this loot.

There are many who believe that the activities may have come to a halt, but will soon begin. There are cement plants and other construction material units waiting for the supplies and unless the state government takes stern steps against the mafia they will continue to harm and degrade the sanctuary.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Jethava killing: MP Solanki’s nephew held

Jethava killing: MP Solanki's nephew held
Indian Express

A month after the alleged contract killing of RTI activist Amit Jethava, the Ahmedabad police on Tuesday arrested BJP MP Dinu Solanki's nephew, Shiva Solanki alias Pratap, from Rajkot. Jethava's parents had earlier alleged the Junagadh MP's involvement in the murder.

"We have found that Shiva had given a contract to Junagadh constable Bahadur Vadher to eliminate Jethava. Bahadur, on behalf of Solanki, had set up Jethava's killing with the help of Pachan Shiva and sharpshooter Shailesh Pandya," said DCP Crime Himanshu Shukla.

Shiva Solanki, 40, was arrested from the Rajkot airport, on his return from Mumbai. His name reportedly cropped up during the interrogation of the constable, Bahadur, who was the first to be arrested in the case.

Shiva and Bahadur are reportedly childhood friends. Bahadur is also reported to own mining land in Gir Sanctuary, which got entangled in a court matter after Jethava filed some RTIs.

"Jethava had become a source of trouble for Shiva in his business of mobile towers and mining. Shiva had a mining business too. However, we are to yet find out whether the mining land was in his name or someone else's," said Shukla. Besides mobile towers, Shiva, a vice president of Kodinar nagar palika, also has a cement and transport business.

According to officials, Jethava was killed by Pandya and an unidentified sharpshooter on July 20, outside the Gujarat High Court in Ahmedabad. The contract killing was reportedly fixed for Rs 11 lakh.

While the police have arrested Pachan Shiva, a bootlegger and police informer, and Sanjay Chauhan from Junagadh on charges of conspiring in the murder, both Pandya and the other sharpshooter are still at large. Meanwhile, Jethava's father, Bhikha Jethava, has said that Shiva had been made a scapegoat in a bid to shield Solanki.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Illegal mining: Govt admits loss of Rs 658 cr

Illegal mining: Govt admits loss of Rs 658 cr
Times of India

State government has admitted on the floor of the House that illegal mining in Junagadh and Porbandar was to the tune of Rs 658 crore of which Rs 627 crore was only in Porbandar district.

Replying to a question on illegal mining, minister of state for mines Saurabh Patel said that in Junagadh about 113 cases of illegal mining were detected and the amount was working out to be around Rs 30.77 crore. He further said that the illegal mining amount in 86 cases was around Rs 627.21 crore.

However, Congress and BJP members shouted slogans against each other as the question was being discussed in the Assembly. There was a hue and cry when Patel alleged that he was willing to declare the names of politicians involved in illegal mining.

The government information stated the biggest theft was to the tune of Rs 119.71 crore, though it is yet to identify the accused. Patel said there was delay in recovery of the penalty and dues as appeals have been filed with the tribunals.

Leader of Opposition Shaktisinh Gohil alleged that the government was not uniform in taking action and was adopting a policy of choose and pick. Porbandar MLA Arjun Modhvadia alleged that in one case where the government has to recover Rs 250 crore, the accused could be seen sharing the dais with Chief Minister Narendra Modi and was also holding meeting with the minister. He said that all this took place during the time the accused was absconding.

Patel said the government has not adopted the policy of choose and pick and all the accused, irrespective of their party affiliation, were dealt in an uniform manner. He even said that the central government too had congratulated the Gujarat government for taking action against illegal mining.

Gujarat MP's nephew held for Jethwa's murder

Gujarat MP's nephew held for Jethwa's murder
Hindustan Times

The Ahmedabad police on Tuesday arrested Pratap alias Shiva Solanki, a relative of Junagadh BJP MP Dinu Solanki in connection with the murder of RTI and environment activist Amit Jethwa, who was gunned down near the Gujarat High Court on July 20. Shiva Solanki is the main accused in the murder

case and was arrested near Rajkot airport on Tuesday by a team of Ahmedabad police officials.
"We have arrested Shiva Solanki, from near the Rajkot airport while he was on his way to Mumbai," JCP (Crime Branch) Mohan Jha said.

Sources in the police said the MP's nephew had allegedly hired contract killers to finish Jethwa, whose activities were affecting his business interests.

Following the murder, Jethwa's father Bhikubhai Jethwa had alleged that the BJP MP was involved in the murder and that his nephew had threatened him and his son many times on the phone and in public places.

The slain activist had set up Gir Nature Youth Club and had filed several petitions in the Gujarat High Court against the forest department. He also filed a public interest litigation against illegal mining in the Gir forests of Junagadh district, considered the world's last abode of Asiatic lions.

Last month, the police had arrested Pachan Shiva, one of the two motorcycle-borne assailants who shot Jethwa.

BJP MP's nephew arrested for role in Amit Jethwa murder case

BJP MP's nephew arrested for role in Amit Jethwa murder case
Sify News

Shiva Solanki, nephew of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Dinu Solanki was on Tuesday arrested near the Rajkot airport in connection with the murder of RTI activist Amit Jethwa.

"We arrested Shiva Solanki while he was on his way to Mumbai," said Police Crime Branch Chief Mohan Jha.

It is believed that Shiva had hired the contract killers to kill Jethwa. He was shot dead outside the Gujarat High Court on July 20.

Earlier, police arrested a constable Bahadursinh Dhirubha Wadher from Junagadh district and one Sanjay Chauhan in connection with the case.

Jethwa had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the High Court, which alleged that mining activities were being carried out in the Una and Kodinar areas of Saurashtra with the support of Dinu Solanki and his relatives.

Jethwa had further alleged that the Solankis were also running illegal mines and stone crushers in a village on the border of the Gir forest. (ANI)

All About: Ahmedabad

Monday, September 06, 2010

BJP MP-Mining mafia link exposed?

BJP MP-Mining mafia link exposed?

Thirty days after BJP MP Dinu Solanki, the key suspect in the murder of RTI activist Amit Jethwa, went into hiding, TIMES NOW has now accessed documents which exposes Solanki's alleged links to the mining mafia.

Solanki, whose nephew is accused of murdering Jethwa, has been on the run for the past 35 days, since the murder on July 21, 2010. Jhetwa was gunned down near the High Court after he filed a Public Interest Ligitation (PIL) on illegal mining in the Gir forest region of Junagarh district, in which he alleged Solanki's link to mafia.

Documents with TIMES NOW show the extraordinary clout and influence Solanki enjoys with the local administration and police, who openly defied state government dictats and even the Chief Minister himself, to keep illegal mining under wraps. Jethwa may have been killed as he was trying to expose this and lay bare the nexus between BJP MP Dinu Solanki and the mining mafia.

In 2002 Gujarat's Forest Department banned mining within a 5-km radius of the the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, the last remaining natural habitat of wild Asiatic lions. However TIMES NOW has accessed a document dated January 2004, two years after this ban, which shows rights to a mine being openly granted to Solanki within that area despite the ban.

There are documents which show that, following this, the Forest Department wrote complaint letters to various agencies including collectors and the adminstration demanding that the illegal mines be shut. When no action was taken, it seems the matter reached the Chief Minister, who in December last year wrote to a Congress MP saying he had ordered a probe into the larger illegal mining issue, and asked the Mines and Minerals Department to look into it.

Interestingly, TIMES NOW has a copy of a letter written a few months later in February 2010, by a hassled Mines and Minerals Department to the local police station alleging non-cooperation from the local police officials in registering their forest officers' complaint against the miners. This shows that the local police are willing to defy even the Gujarat government, to protect the interests of Solanki and the mining mafia.

Speaking to TIMES NOW in July this year, Solanki denied any role in Jethwa's murder saying the police did not have any evidence against him. "If the police has any evidence, we will see. This matter does not concern me. I won't any explanation to anyone," he said.

The Gujarat Government on August 23 placed before the High Court a report on the police investigation into the murder case in connection with Jethwa's PIL. A Division Bench of Chief Justice S J Mukhopadhaya and Justice K M Thakar included Jethwa's younger brother Bhavin and maternal uncle Vijay Rathod as petitioners in the PIL. Bhavin and Rathod had filed applications to be included as petitioners in the case after Jethwa's death.

When the matter came up for hearing, the government handed over the report, in a sealed cover, containing details of the probe conducted by the Crime Branch.
The HC asked the government to keep it updated about further developments into the case during hearing of the PIL.

Three persons, including a police constable from Junagadh, have been arrested in connection with the activist's murder. Pratap alias Shiva Solanki, nephew of BJP Lok Sabha MP from Junagadh Dinu Solanki, has also come under police scanner.

Jethwa's father Bhikabhai had alleged that Dinu Solanki was behind his son's murder, which police suspect, was linked to illegal mining activity in Gir.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Sad story continues, vultures dwindle to 1,000 in Gujarat

Sad story continues, vultures dwindle to 1,000 in Gujarat
DNA By Jumana Shah

As the world marked the International Vulture Awareness Day on Saturday, the news of the mythological Jatayu is gloomy in Gujarat. For the third consecutive year, the vulture population in the state has dipped substantially.

The latest census concluded by the forest department last month reveals a drop of close to 28% in the numbers of the endangered species.

Though the department is yet to officially announce the results, sources said that the final estimated population in the state is just above 1,000 birds right now.

The good news, if any, is that the rate of decrease has been marginally checked since the last census in 2007, which witnessed a fall of 45% in the birds' population over the 2005 estimate. Vultures, protected under Schedule-I of the Wildlife Conservation Act, are among the most critically endangered species in the country. Conservationists anticipate that if the decline in their population continues at the current rate, the species will become extinct in India in the next seven years.

"Vulture conservation is a priority for us. Though the final figures are being compiled and there is an overall dip, we draw heart from the fact that the rate of decline is lower than last time," director of GEER Foundation Bharat Pathak said.
Sources indicate that news is not bad across all districts in the state.

"Some districts have, in fact, registered an increase in the population. Researchers at GEER involved in the study have gone into the depth of the issue this time to study the reasons for the rise or fall in population for each district," he said.

An active vulture conservationist with Birds Conservation Society of Gujarat, Kartik Shastri said that though the census exercise is a commendable attempt to figure out their total population, the forest department now needs to seriously look at conservation activities.

"Just discussing the rise or fall in population is not enough. Since the census concluded last month, we have reported seven vulture deaths in Ahmedabad. The point is who will undertake conservation?" he asked.

A medicine called diclofenac, which is used to treat livestock and is consumed by vultures while feeding on animals' carcasses, is believed to be the main cause of vulture deaths and therefore the decline in its population.

This apart, urbanisation, lack of awareness among villagers about vulture breeding, and lack of safe feeding sites are reasons for their disappearance.

While conservationists in areas like Kutch and Surendranagar have reported a decline in numbers, Ahmedabad city and Girnar Hill in Junagadh seem to have reported a healthy population.

Incidentally, naturalists in these regions are up in arms against the government over the proposed construction of a ropeway to the top of the hill which, they claim, passes through vulture habitat.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Double date: Gir lion mates with 2 females

Double date: Gir lion mates with 2 females
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik
Lion kings of Gir are enjoying the company of two queens at the same time. This highly unusual behaviour of the big cats has been revealed in a study conducted by a lion researcher, Meena Venkatraman.
Contrary to behaviour seen in Africa, where a lioness mates with two males if left unattended, here in Gir it is the opposite. Venkatraman recorded this mating behaviour after radio-collaring a male lion, 6-8 years of age, during her study: The lion was resting next to a lioness, about 5-7 years of age.
Another younger female, about 4-6 years of age, rested 5 metres away from the pair. As is typical with mating pairs, when the older female stood up and walked away, the male walked with her in a protective manner. The younger female too stood up but walked away in a different direction.
The pair mated in the afternoon. About 20 minutes later, the younger lioness also mated with the lion. Surprisingly, the older female did not show any aggression. Venkatraman found that this behaviour was rare. Since 1966-1969, only three incidents had been recorded in Africa.

RTI: Mining official fined for sharing scanty information

RTI: Mining official fined for sharing scanty information
Ahmedabad By Dilip Patel
The Gujarat Information Commission (GIC) has penalised an official of the Junagadh mining department for violating provisions of the RTI Act. In an order issued earlier this month, it has asked the public information officer of the department, A K Mule, to pay a fine of Rs 25,000 for not providing adequate details to a farmer, Gunwatsingh Vaish.
Vaish, who lives in Alidar village of Kodinar taluka, has been taking the RTI mode to draw officials' attention to illegal mining near the Gir lion sanctuary. On July 11, 2008, he filed an application with the department seeking details of limestone quarries and lease-holders in Pichva village, which is located near the protected wildlife area.
He wanted to know how many mines were operational in the area and how many mining leases the government had cancelled between January 2000 and June 2008. Vaish filed the application to underscore the fact that rampant digging had continued in the region despite a ban by the government. On May 16, 2005, the state government banned limestone mining near the periphery of Asiatic lion's last natural abode following a directive by the Supreme Court.
Year-long delay
Vaish waited for a year, but Mule, a geologist, did not provide the information. On September 1, 2009, he filed a petition to draw GIC's attention to the delay. The commission then instructed Mule to share the requested information at the earliest.
On June 25 this year, the Alidar-based farmer finally received copies of government documents on limestone quarries and lease-holders in Pichva. However, the information was incomplete. Of the 13 mines in the area, Mule share details of only seven. This prompted Vaish to again approach the GIC, which gave the geologist 10 days to provide complete details.
Mule, however, failed to do so. He reportedly didn't even appear before the GIC. Earlier this month, the commission slapped a fine of Rs 25,000 on him under Section 20 (1) of the RTI Act. Vaish alleges Mule did not share the complete information to shield some politicians and their partners who are involved in illegal limestone mining.
'Jethava is dead, but his fight will continue'
"He has been holding the post of public information officer in the mining department for the past seven years. He has tried to delay RTI queries to protect the nexus between politicians and mining mafia," Vaish claimed. "Environmental activist Amit Jethava had filed several RTI applications, but Mule didn't respond. Jethava was killed because he raised his voice against the powerful lobby. However, I, along with others, will continue to fight for the cause."
The farmer said that illegal digging work posed a grave threat to the wild cats. "The activity also affects farming. It disrupts the process of groundwater recharging," Vaish said. Congress's Kodinar MLA, Dheersinh Barad, alleged that government authorities and mining mafia were working hand in glove.
"For the past two years, farmers and activists have been trying to press officials to clamp down on illegal mining. Some action has been taken, but a lot needs to be done," Barad said. He accused BJP MP Dinu Solanki of using his influence to protect wrongdoers. "He tells officials which quarries should be shut down and which should be allowed to flout norms,&dquo; Barad alleged.

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