Saturday, May 3, 2014

RTI activist and AAP member burns to death in car, family cries murder

An RTI activist who relentlessly pursued and exposed corrupt land deals was found dead in suspicious circumstances late on Thursday night. The 38-year-old activist's car was found ablaze near his house in Greater Noida. Rescuers discovered his charred body inside after they had doused the fire.  The victim, Chandra Mohan Sharma, was an Aam Aadmi Party member and, according to his family, one of the first activists to join Anna Hazare's anti-corruption movement. Sharma had exposed cases of government land being grabbed across Gautam Budh Nagar. 

Police initially described it as an accident but lodged an FIR after Sharma's family slammed the hasty inference. Five persons with alleged links to the local land mafia were named in the report filed late on Friday. The family said Sharma had received numerous death threats and had even complained to the police about it. 

According to his family, RTI activist Chandra Mohan Sharma had been receiving threats for over a year. The latest one came last Monday when he was allegedly accosted near Pari Chowk. Sharma had lodged a police complaint on April 29 but no action was taken, the family said.  Police denied having received any such complaint but the family produced a stamped copy to prove its claim.  Police believe Sharma's car caught fire between 11.10pm and midnight. "He left work at 11.10pm, according to factory records of the automobile company he worked for," said Brijesh Kumar, SP, Greater Noida. 

Around midnight, the police control room received a call that a car was on fire just a few metres from the Swarnagiri roundabout. A fire tender was rushed to the spot but the blaze had gutted the Chevrolet Aveo. "It was then realized that there was someone trapped inside the Aveo. But the fire had gutted the vehicle and the person could not be saved," said the SP.  Police said since the number plate of the car was partly burned; it wasn't until Friday morning that they could identify the victim. 

Sharma's wife Savita, AAP's secretary for western UP, blamed police apathy for the activist's death. Savita, 34, said they had received threats on several occasions. "My husband was involved in a dispute with some people who were trying to grab land earmarked for a temple in Kasna village in Greater Noida," she said. "Last year alone, three attempts were made to scare him away. We used to frequently get phone calls at odd hours, with the caller threatening to kill us. Police did not protect my husband despite us giving them all the mobile numbers from where the calls were being made and filing two FIRs."  "If they had arrested the people we had named, maybe my husband would have been alive today," Savita said. 

An autopsy was conducted on Sharma's body while DNA samples and viscera were sent to the forensic lab to ascertain the cause of death. The car, too, was sent for a technical investigation. "We will conduct a thorough investigation and anyone found to be responsible for Sharma's death will be brought to book," the SP said.

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