Mumbai: A single, unidentified assailant barged into the residence of a 72-year-old RTI activist and shot him dead at Kalina in Santa Cruz (east) on Saturday night. The police arrested two people in connection with the murder on Monday.
The victim, Bhupendra Vira, was a well-known activist who had raised his voice against several illegal constructions and exposed the local land mafia’s nefarious activities.
Vira’s family suspects the role of a former corporator, but the police has made no comments on the latter’s role, saying investigations are still at an initial stage.
The fact that there was no CCTV camera installed near the crime scene is proving to be a hurdle, the cops added, since footage from it could have yielded a clue about the assailant’s identity.
The family’s suspicions lie on the corporator since Vira had opposed his irregular activities in the past. “My father-in-law had made many enemies due to his activism. He would file RTIs, get documents and uncover details about the numerous illegal constructions in the area. He had also managed to anger an ex-corporator who had tried to encroach upon our land a few years ago,” said Ms Sheela Vira, the victim’s daughter-in-law.
Vira was referring to an incident four years ago, when certain goons who allegedly owed allegiance to the ex-corporator had forcibly tried to take over a property in which Vira owned a gala. When Mr Vira’s elder son had tried to stop the goons, they had assaulted him with a knife. Subsequently, Vira began raising his voice against local land-grabbing incidents and approached the police with complaints.
The police said that the murder occurred between 8.30 pm and 9 pm on Saturday, when Vira was at his house in Razzaq Chawl behind Kalina Masjid. “They stay in a one-room kitchen set-up and the victim was watching TV when the incident took place. The assailant allegedly barged into the house, shot him and fled,” said an officer from Vakola police station. He added that Vira’s wife, Ranjanben, was present in the house during the incident.
“She was in the kitchen and claims to have been unaware about when the assailant entered the house, saying she rushed out only after hearing her husband’s yell,” said an officer.
Deputy commissioner of police (zone 8) Virendra Mishra said, “A murder case has been registered against an unknown person. We are trying to make a sketch of the accused.”
Meanwhile, other activists have now sought pro-active policing to protect them. Several activists who stay in the city’s western and eastern suburbs met on Sunday morning to demand immediate action on all the complaints lodged against land-grabbers and other anti-social elements. The activists will meet the city police commissioner with their demands on Monday.
Maharashtra has recorded the highest number of attacks on RTI activists ever since the Act was enforced 11 years ago. According to data put together by the Commonwealth Human Rights initiative, more than 60 activists have been killed, harassed or assaulted in the state since 2005. Most of the cases were related to land scams.