Advocate for a cause

Frontline | Lyla Bavadam | Print edition: Dec 06, 2019

Interview with the advocate Anandvardhan Yagnik.

Anandvardhan Yagnik is an advocate at the High Court of Gujarat with a strong reputation for standing up for human rights. His father, Achyut Yagnik, is founder-secretary of Setu: Centre for Social Knowledge and Action, an Ahmedabad-based voluntary organisation that has been working with marginalised communities since the early 1980s, and a well-respected commentator on Gujarat with a knack for demystifying the State’s complexities. Anandvardhan Yagnik has rubbed many powerful people the wrong way in the Amit Jethava case, and the verdict exposed powerful people to the might of the law. The outcome is that he is now under threat. Excerpts from an interview:

Amit Jethava was known for his crusades on environmental issues, and Dinu Solanki seems to have repeatedly responded with violence.

Mr Amit Jethava was an environmentalist and an RTI [Right to Information] activist. He was known for filing public and environmental interest petitions. At the young age of 34, he had earned a reputation as a crusader. The last PIL [public interest litigation] petition filed by Mr Amit Jethava was on the subject of rampant and large-scale illegal mining within the prohibited five km periphery of Gir forest by Mr Dinu Bogha Solanki. The Member of Parliament and his nephew were directed to be impleaded as a party by an order dated 07.07.2010. Notice was issued upon the persons and within two weeks thereof, before the next hearing, Mr Amit Jethava was shot at around 8:45 p.m. by two unidentified persons. He died on the spot.

In the past, Mr Amit Jethava was brutally attacked and seriously wounded. Several police complaints and representations were made by him to the competent authorities categorically stating that he was facing threats to his life from Mr Dinu Bogha Solanki and his mercenaries. The petitioner himself [Jethava’s father] was told by Mr Dinu Bogha Solanki in the past on the telephone to ask his son not to get involved in RTI applications on the issues related to him and other activities that could bring disrepute to him or face death.

Solanki seems to have had considerable clout with the powers that be in Gujarat and at the Centre.

Yes. He was a three-time MLA from Kodinar constituency and a Member of Parliament of Junagadh constituency from 2009. Kodinar is known for the largest cement factory in India. The entire coastal belt and Gir forest in Junagadh and surrounding districts have limestone in abundance.

Limestone is a raw material for cement and a very rich mineral. Because of limestone, the agriculture in the entire region is prosperous and farmers are able to cultivate three crops a year. The requirement of limestone leads to mining of fertile and prosperous agricultural lands and that leads to the perennial conflict between the competing priorities. On the one hand, [there is the] ever-growing requirement of cement factories for the limestone lying beneath the agriculturally fertile land and, on the other, the right to livelihood based on agriculture of the farmers of the region. Once the land is mined, it becomes useless for agriculture. The power acquired by Mr Dinu Bogha Solanki after affiliating himself with the cement industry coupled with caste and the party politics made him a successful politician of the region.

He is now known as the uncrowned king of Kodinar, and nothing moves in the region without his permission. He is more successful because he is from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been in power since 1998 in Gujarat.

Mr Dinu Bogha is engaged in the business of (i) mines, (ii) transport business with Ambuja under the name of Rajmoti Movers, (iii) petrol pump—Reliance, Indian Oil, IBP, HP—under different names, (iv) furnace oil depot in Diu, (v) Rajmoti Cable Network, (vi) real estate broking, (vii) stone-crusher factories and trading, (viii) road construction material, (ix) mobile towers: Tata, Airtel, BSNL, Vodaphone, (x) bitumen plant, (xi) sand lease, (xii) Massey Ferguson Tractor agencies, (xiii) ice plant, (xiv) water supply contract with Ambuja Cement, (xv) many businesses under the Rajmoti Charitable Trust. He also runs educational institutions under the Rajmoti Charitable Trust.

In November 2003, the Superintendent of Police, Junagadh, prepared a report about the activities of Dinu Bogha Solanki, who was then an MLA, to the Collector. The report categorically states that Mr Dinu Bogha Solanki is involved in underground activities. It further states that the MLA brings undue pressure upon the local police. Therefore, no one is interested in working as Police Inspector or Police Sub-Inspector in Kodinar police station. If the police do not act as per the expectation of the MLA, he starts levelling false allegations against them.

The report further states that the MLA is not only communal and has a grudge against Muslims but has a problem with contractors of cement factories and politicians affiliated to the Congress. Most importantly, the report states that because of the hegemony of Dinu Bogha Solanki in the area, his victims are unable to get justice. The report brings to the light specific instances of involvement of Mr Dinu Bogha Solanki in illegal and underground activities besides his actions to perpetrate his dominance and hegemony also over the local police.

But despite all that Dinu Solanki has not been expelled or suspended from the party. Even after the conviction, no one has spoken a word against him. When the CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation] had arrested Dinu Bogha Solanki pursuant to the transfer of the investigation, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani had addressed the press and defended Dinu Bogha Solanki [saying] that the CBI is Congress Bureau of Investigation and that Solanki has been wrongly implicated.

These nine years must have been an intense personal journey for you.

I still shiver when I recall the afternoon of the day prior to the day of Amit Jethava’s brutal murder. He came to my chamber, and of all people chose to confide in me that he feared for his life, that he was going to be done to death by Dinu Bogha Solanki. He shivered as he spoke. Almost in disbelief and thinking that life wasn’t so trivial to be taken away, I comforted Amit with whatever positive words I could. But, as fate would have it, 20th July, 2010, wasn’t just another day. Amit was brutally murdered just outside the High Court of Gujarat.