The Gujarat High Court (HC) has suspended the rigorous life imprisonment of former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Junagadh, Dinu Bogha Solanki, and granted him conditional bail in the murder case of right to information (RTI) and environmental activist Amit Jethwa.
In July 2019, a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Ahmedabad had sentenced Solanki and six others to life imprisonment while naming the former parliamentarian and his nephew Shiva Solanki the prime accused.
The Bench of Justice Paresh Upadhyay observed: “The special CBI court’s judgement was erroneous and unsustainable as the trial was based on assumptions and presumptions and also conjunctures and surmises. When the circumstances against the applicant are taken cumulative, we do not find any chain of evidence being established leading to conclusion that in all probability, the crime was committed by the applicant.”
Solanki, considered a close aide of Union home minister Amit Shah, and six others were found guilty of Jethwa’s murder by the CBI court on July 6, 2019. Solanki, his nephew Shiva, police constable Bahadursinh Vader, Sanjay Chauhan, Sailesh Pandya, Pachan Desai and Udaiji Thakore were charged under Sections 302 (murder), 201 (causing disappearance of evidence of offence), 120B (criminal conspiracy to commit an offence) of the Indian Penal Code and 25(1) of Arms Act (illegal possession of arms or ammunition).
On July 11, 2019, the special CBI court, while announcing the quantum of punishment, had held that the murder was a premeditated act and thereby convicted the accused of criminal conspiracy. The accused were sentenced to rigorous life imprisonment, and slapped with a fine totalling Rs 59,25,000 out of which Rs 11,00,000 was given to Jethwa’s family.
Solanki was granted temporary bail thrice in 2020. In October 2020, Solanki was granted five days of temporary bail by the HC following the death of his COVID-19 positive nephew in Ahmedabad. In July, he was granted temporary bail for four days to perform the rituals for his demised elder sister. In February, he was granted four days of temporary bail for attending three family marriages.
AMIT JETHWA MURDER CASE
A resident of Khambha, a small village in Amreli district of the Saurashtra region, Jethwa was shot dead on July 20, 2010, in front of the HC.
In 2008, Jethwa was brutally attacked and had to be hospitalised for three months with serious injuries after he began seeking information regarding illegal mining through RTIs. Following the attack, Jethwa, his wife and two children shifted to Ahmedabad. In 2010, he filed a public interest litigation naming Solanki on the basis of evidence he had sought through RTIs.
Later, an investigation was initiated and the statements of Jethwa’s father, wife and others were recorded with all of them stating that he was facing death threats from Solanki and his nephew Shiva. He was worried about his safety in the last few months of his life, they said. However, the Ahmedabad police, the first investigating agency in the matter, omitted the part of the statements where they had mentioned Solanki.
After about three months, the Ahmedabad local police jurisdiction transferred the case to the CID Crime. Within a day, the CID arrested few persons who confessed to the crime, exonerating Solanki and Shiva.
Subsequently, Jethwa’s father Bhikabhai Jethwa filed an application in the HC in September 2010 requesting that the case be transferred to the CBI. The CBI took over the investigation in November 2012. Meanwhile, Solanki challenged the transfer order in the Supreme Court requesting to say the HC order. However, the apex court rejected his application.
The CBI completed its investigation and arrested Solanki on November 5, 2013. On February 24, 2014, the apex court rejected a special leave petition by Solanki but granted him interim bail. A charge sheet was also filed around the same time against Solanki by the CBI naming him as the main conspirator along with his nephew and others. The charge sheet also stated that Solanki had also sought the help of some on-duty police personnel and absconding criminals.
Noticeably, when Bhikhabhai had filed a case against Solanki in September 2010, he already had 47 FIRs registered against him. Yet he was granted bail on the condition of not indulging in any kind of intimidation. However, the Jethwa family had to soon leave Khamba to ensure their security.
As the trial began, 105 out of 195 witnesses turned hostile. Bhikhabhai moved the HC once again seeking a fresh trial on the ground that a majority of the witnesses had turned hostile and had complained of receiving threats. The HC ordered a fresh trial and also ordered to change the Special Judge hearing the case.
In response, Solanki challenged the HC’s order of retrial in the apex court. On October 30, 2017, the apex court cancelled Solanki’s bail, ordered him to surrender immediately and also allowed re-examination of 26 other witnesses.
However, despite the top court’s order, Solanki did not surrender immediately nor did he stay out of Gujarat. He attended and organised political programmes of the BJP in Kodinar ahead of the Gujarat Assembly polls in 2017 and brazenly posted his whereabouts on social media. Solanki was forced to leave Gujarat only after about ten days when Bhikhabhai moved an affidavit requesting his immediate arrest as he had failed to comply with the top court’ order.
In 2018, the son of key witness Dhamendra Balugiri Goswami was kidnapped during the trial forcing him to turn hostile. Goswami was among the 26 witnesses who were being re-examined by the CBI court. In 2021, Goswami moved the HC seeking transfer of the investigation of his son’s kidnapping from the Una Police to the CBI claiming in his petition that “he was threatened by particular individuals at the instance of accused Dinu Solanki and his nephew Pratap, alias, Shiva Solanki”.
In August 2021, Solanki and Shiva moved a plea in the HC seeking to quash the FIR filed against them over the kidnapping of Goswami’s son.