Mumbai: A former corporator and his son were arrested on Monday in connection with the murder of a 72-year-old RTI activist, known for his battle against land mafia and encroachers, even as police suspect the killing to be the fallout of a land dispute.
RTI activist Bhupendra Vira, who had exposed encroachers and unauthorised constructions in and around Kalina in the city, was shot dead at point blank range on Saturday night when he was watching TV at his residence in suburban Santacruz.
The murder sparked strong reactions from anti-graft campaigners, saying that Maharashtra has become a dangerous place for whistleblowers with as many as 11 activists having been killed in the west central Indian state in the last 10 years.
"Amjad Khan (53) and his father Razzaq Khan (78) were arrested this (on Monday) morning in connection with the case. Razzak was earlier a corporator in Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. It looks like a land dispute led to the Khans killing Vira," Mumbai Deputy Commissioner of Police Ashok Dudhe told PTI.
The duo were arrested after Vira's family members gave their names in the complaint, police said.
The two were later produced in a local court which remanded them in police custody till October 24.
"After arresting both the accused, Vakola police produced them in Andheri court which sent them in police custody for further probe," Deputy Commissioner of Police Virendra Mishra said.
Vira had filed some applications against the alleged illegal construction and land grabbing by Razzaq Khan, police said.
Razzaq, an ex-corporator of Congress from Santacruz, had got an order from Lokayukta for demolishing four illegal properties in the area on Vira's complaint, hours before the activist's murder, sources said.
Police are now investigating whether this order led to the murder of the RTI activist, a police officer said.
"We are investigating this fact also," he said.
Vira was staying as a tenant at the 'Razzaq chawl'.Notably, Maharashtra has recorded the highest number of attacks and murders of RTI activists since this Act came into force in 2005.
As per data collected by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, at least 60 RTI activists were attacked, harassed and 11 killed in Maharashtra in the last ten years.
Most applications filed by RTI activists are to seek information on land and illegal construction activities. The cases of murder of RTI activists include that of Satish Shetty, who was killed at Talegaon Dabhade in Pune in January 2010 for exposing land scams on Mumbai-Pune Expressway.
According to reports, another activist Vasant Patil was stabbed 23 times and killed in Mumbai, while one Abrar Shaikh was murdered in Bhiwandi.
RTI activists from across the city demanded justice for Vira, even as opposition parties took potshots at the BJP-led government alleging that the law and order situation in the state was deteriorating.
Former Central Information Commissioner Shailesh Gandhi wrote to Maharashtra State Chief Information Commissioner Ratnakar Gaikwad, requesting the commission to treat his letter as a complaint under section 18 of RTI Act.
Demanding police department to inquire into the murder, Gandhi wrote, "I request the commission to order public authorities where Vira's RTI applications are pending to immediately release all the information which he must have sought in his RTI applications."
Vira had been filing RTI applications to BMC, SRA and Lokayukta to uncover illegal encroachments, he said.
Gandhi also appealed the Commissioner to direct the police department to provide security to Vira's family and other possible relief.
Another RTI activist Samir Jhaveri, who has exposed many scams, said, "This chilling murder took place just because local police openly violated compliance of the high court ruling. The lackadisical and unprofessional approach of senior officers of local police, including ACP and DCP, is responsible for this murder."
The opposition NCP and Congress too came down on the government over the "deteriorating" law and order situation.
NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said, "This brutal murder reflects the deteriorating law and order situation which is getting bad to worse. In the regime of BJP, such gruesome murder has taken place as if criminals have no fear for law. This is natural to happen when chief minister is seen with the criminals in the photos."
The Congress demanded that the government show its will to put an end on such criminal activities.
Party spokesman Sachin Sawant said, "The murder of the RTI activist Bhupendra Vira shows that criminals have no fear for the law and they can do whatever they wish. Law and order is lost in the city and state. This is high time when government should show its will to put an end to such criminal activities."