B2 (1997-2011)

B2 (1997-2011)

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Prominent wildlife & tiger activist Shehla Masood shot dead in Bhopal

A prominent Right to Information activist and supporter of social activist Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign was shot dead outside her residence in Bhopal on Tuesday morning.

Shehla Masood was shot dead by an unidentified assailant outside her house in the city's posh Koh-e-Fiza locality as she was on her way to an anti-corruption campaign being organised by her and other activists in support of Mr. Anna Hazare at the Bhopal Boat Club.

“We have registered it as a case of unnatural death. Anything more can be said only after the postmortem report,” Bhopal Senior Superintendent of Police Adarsh Katiyar told The Hindu.

Bhopal, not used to the professionally executed metro-style shootout, was stunned at the activist's death. “I am shocked. We had planned a proactive campaign where people would have been asked to write, on a 200-foot-wide banner, about the most corrupt government departments and officers in Madhya Pradesh,” Ajay Dube, RTI activist and long-time associate of Ms. Masood told The Hindu.

Ms. Masood, who also ran an event management company, had managed to constantly annoy the powers that be with her incisive RTI queries and public campaigns, mostly against corruption and for wildlife conservation. She was also a freelance journalist, contributing regularly to news website rediff.com on issues related to the environment and tiger conservation.

Last year, Ms. Masood had told the authorities she “feared for her life” from a senior officer of the Indian Police Service and had complained about the matter to two successive police chiefs of the State.

Ms. Masood had written to the current Madhya Pradesh Director-General of Police S.K. Raut, complaining against a particular officer.

In the letter, Ms. Masood had accused him of harassing her and making threatening calls to her, about which she had lodged a complaint at the city's Maharana Pratap Nagar Police Station in 2008.

I fear for my life from [him]. Please do the needful and oblige,” she had urged the DGP.

The officer concerned, whose name The Hindu is withholding, did not answer calls or reply to text messages seeking his clarification on the matter. However, Bhopal IG Shailendra Shrivastava told The Hindu: “Yes, there was a complaint against the said officer. We sent Ms. Masood several notices offering probes at the thana level, additional SP level and DIG level, all of which she refused. Finally, I requested her to give me her statement. But she said she had filed a case against the said officer in Lokayukta and that she would give me a statement only once the Lokayukta probe was over.”

Like other RTI activists across India who have paid the ultimate price for making persistent and uncomfortable queries, Ms. Masood's efforts may well have put her in harm's way.

She was planning to file a Public Interest Litigation petition against a private college based on recent media reports. “It is a very powerful group of people, including local political leaders, that I will be up against once I file this PIL. I know who they are but I can't speak out much as I am still collecting information,” Ms. Masood had confessed, speaking to this correspondent last week.

Ms. Masood was also an active tiger conservationist and environmental crusader, constantly digging up information on the poaching mafia, illegal diamond mining mafia, timber mafia and the hospitality industry, which she said was violating environmental laws.


RTI lady killed, stink of tiger mafia
Bhopal, Aug. 16: A right to information campaigner who had raised questions on several tiger deaths across Madhya Pradesh was shot dead as she got into her car moments after stepping out of home this morning.
Shahla Masood, known to be working on alleged malpractice in the state’s wildlife conservation, tourism and other departments, had before leaving home updated her Facebook account, urging people to support Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption.

Police said the 35-year-old was shot by an unidentified assailant as she sat in her Santro in the Koh-e-Fiza locality of the Madhya Pradesh capital.
“Shahla Masood was shot dead around 11am when she was sitting in her car,” senior superintendent of police Adarsh Katiyar said.

The SSP said a massive hunt had been launched to nab the assailant though the motive behind the murder wasn’t clear yet.

Ajay Dubey, a close associate of the slain RTI campaigner, said Shahla had “raised questions regarding several tiger deaths” across the state. “People involved in the racket may be responsible,” he added.
A former model, event manager and later a full-time RTI activist, Shahla was feared by many politicians and bureaucrats.

Dubey demanded a CBI probe into the murder. “We have no faith in the state government, so the matter should be investigated by the CBI.”

The killing of Shahla has again raised questions on the ability of governments to protect whistleblowers or rights activists.

In April this year, Niyamat Ansari, an RTI activist from Latehar, Jharkhand, was killed for exposing embezzlement of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act funds. 

“The fact that a lady can be murdered like this in broad daylight outside her own house shows that there is no security worth its name in Bhopal,” leader of Opposition in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly Ajay Singh told PTI.

State police chief S.K. Raut visited Shahla’s residence, where a police force was deployed.

“I am sure…we will solve the murder soon,” PTI quoted IG Shailendra Shrivastava as saying.
Shahla’s body has been sent for post-mortem. Police have seized the car and locked her room.
Sources said the Bhopal-based activist had stayed up the whole of last night and watched the dramatic scenes of Hazare’s arrest this morning.

They said before leaving home, Shahla had updated her Facebook account, urging people to support Hazare’s movement.

Her last status update on Facebook read “Gandhi: ‘the purpose of civil resistance is provocation.’ Anna has succeeded in provoking the government and the opposition. Hope he wins us freedom from corruption. Meet at 2pm Boat Club Bhopal.”

A PTI report said Shahla’s aunt Rubab Zaidi came down to see why her niece hadn’t driven off even 15 minutes after stepping out of home. When she reached the car, Zaidi saw Shahla slumped inside. She then called Shahla’s father.

The activist was single and her only sister lives in America.


Jairam Ramesh expresses shock at RTI activist’s murder

While civil society groups in Madhya Pradesh preferred to remain silent over RTI activist Shehla Masood’s mysterious death, Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh wrote to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan expressing shock at the activist’s murder.

I was shocked to read of the shooting of Ms. Shehla Masood...She was young and enthusiastic and I am very sad that she met an untimely end in such a brutal manner,” Mr. Ramesh wrote in his letter.

Recalling the slain activist’s correspondence with him over several issues of environment and tiger conservation, the former Environment Minister said: “She brought to my notice issues relating to Panna and Bandhavgarh and I recall having spoken to Dr. Rajesh Gopal, member secretary NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority) and Dr. H.S. Pabla, Chief Wildlife Warden, Madhya Pradesh about her complaints.”

“I sincerely hope that the State government will bring the killer or killers to book soon. This is the least we owe to the memory of a committed activist,” Mr. Ramesh concluded.

Meanwhile, some local media reports reported the death as being a possible suicide. Also, the State government effected a major reshuffle in the police department right after Ms. Masood’s death, transferring senior police officers overnight.

“We don't know whether it was murder or suicide. In fact, we can't say anything as investigations are still going on,” newly appointed Senior Superintendent of Police (Bhopal) Yogesh Chaudhary told The Hindu.

The opposition Congress party, along with Ms. Masood’s family, has demanded a CBI probe.


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