One more whistleblower was attacked by goons in the state. Many such incidents have happened in Maharashtra in which whistleblowers were either attacked or brutally killed. However, as usual, police failed to nab any attackers in such incidents. Veteran left leader Govind Pansare and his wife were shot at near their home in Kolhapur. The 82-year-old lawyer, a known anti-toll tax campaigner, was on a morning walk with his wife Uma when at around 8 am, unknown attackers fired at them. The shooters reportedly fired at least four rounds at close range before running away. He was the one who appealed to workers of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti (MANS) to remain aggressive in continuing the work of anti-superstition crusader Narendra Dabholkar. Pansare further forced the state government to pass the anti-superstition bill in the assembly and implement it.
Pansare, a communist leader has fought for years against the state government’s decision to charge citizens for road development. Tolls are indirect taxes. This mode is adopted because the direct taxation is not comprehensive and many people are outside the direct tax net. We can get rid of toll if government makes a rule that if one has paid a certain amount as direct taxes, then tolls can be exempted for that person. However, this will require a lot of mechanism in place to track direct tax payers and to issue them a card that can be swiped at toll plazas. Pansare was building pressure on the government against these toll mafias. Pansare had recently resorted to protest against the Chief Minister Fadanvis’s U-turn on scrapping the levy. A panel of anti-toll activists from Ravivar Peth in Kolhapur had made CM’s personal mobile phone number public, urging sympathisers to flood him with text messages demanding a rollback of the levy. The anti-toll activists displayed hoardings with these numbers in prominent localities, setting a target of sending over one lakh anti-toll text messages to the CM. Fadnavis’s woes were further compounded with a prominent Marathi daily publishing these numbers along with a story regarding the unique anti-toll protest. Not amused by the mode of protest, sources said the CM’s office made its displeasure known to the toll activists and the publishing house.
Former Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had also faced a similar protest following his decision to continue with the local body tax. Activists from Kolhapur were also involved in it at that time also. However, the mobile number shared then was that of a senior official in the CMO and not Chavan’s. Anyway, there is nothing like that, he is against toll taxes that’s why toll mafias are given his ‘supari’ but revolutionaries are getting killed within a short span of time since BJP came into power.
In a similar way, Narendra Dabholkar, an anti-superstition activist, was shot dead in August, 2013, while he was on a morning walk near his house in Pune. The Maharashtra government had announced a reward of Rs. 10 lakh for information on his killers. Dabholkar was at the forefront of a campaign to persuade Maharashtra government to pass an anti-superstition and black magic bill. Dabholkar was murdered the days after the Maharashtra government assured him about the introduction of the anti-superstition bill, even though Right Wing groups and certain sections of Warkari sect were opposing it. He was a staunch fighter for the cause of eradication of inhuman rituals and superstitions. Dr. Dabholkar had a degree in medicine but he started working in the field of superstition eradication in 1983. In 1989, along with other like-minded people; he founded the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti.
In 2010, RTI activist Satish Shetty was also killed while he was out on his morning stroll. He was allegedly stabbed by several people. Popularly known as “Satish”, he was an Indian social activist, noted for exposing many land scams in Maharashtra. He had used the Right to Information Act to expose irregularities in Government offices in the last five years. He was killed on 13 January 2010, by unknown attackers in Talegaon. Shetty had used the RTI Act to expose large scale land scams involving the leading real estate firm IRB Infrastructure and its subsidiary Aryan. In 2009, he filed a complaint that forged documents had been used by these firms to acquire large swathes of land in the Taje and Pimpoli villages off the Pune-Mumbai highway. After investigations, 90 sale deeds were cancelled. After this episode, Shetty started receiving threat calls. In November 2009, he filed a request with the Pune rural police seeking protection. In the request, he said that he had been receiving threats. In January 2010, Shetty was stabbed by several people while he was at a kiosk reading a paper after his morning walk. The attack on Pansare is the third in this pattern and I am sure this would also be open and shut case like others.
Toll mafias are more powerful than Maharashtra Government, Judiciary and law enforcement agencies. All the toll-ways (on highways) are not maintained at all. We are suffering because of jerking journeys. Toll is highly hated and anti-people. Only the contractors benefit out of it. Toll is the biggest example of Politician-Official- Contractor nexus. It is a wakeup call that only common people suffer with it. In reality, political leaders across political parties have indirect business interest in ‘road construction and infrastructure’ through sub-contractors with Toll mafias. Only Raj Thackeray and his party MNS protested against this in the state but after the elections they also tamed down. Here the problem is, who will bell the cat?