The calm that rules Lokesh Batra's Noida home neither betrays the fair bit of adventure he had had in his life as a lieutenant in the 1971 war with Pakistan nor his tireless struggle over the last three years to bring out the truth behind government's handling of Nithari massacre. The tranquillity of his abode is also in contrast to the restless spirit of this 63-year-old retired commodore. It's this spirit, perhaps, that impels him to take on the government machinery on behalf of the common man.
In using the Right to Information Act, 2005, to try to compel government action on the horrible killings of children in the Nithari village and the plight of over 100 bereaved families, Batra seems to have seen it all -- the abject failure of administration, law enforcement and the judiciary.
It goes back to December 29, 2006. Images of human skulls in the drain outside D-5 in Noida’s Nithari village shook the nation. For a month, if not more, battery of reporters, along with the police, civil society and the residents of Nithari, camped outside the bungalow, where businessman Moninder Singh Pandher and his domestic help Surendra Koli are believed to have committed 19 murders.
Almost every news channel fed us with “exclusive” on the killings: Pandher was aware of the killings done by Koli, but never stopped him; both used to sexually abuse the victims before killing them; Pandher had no clue that Koli, who, the CBI later indicted as a ‘cannibal’, was killing the girls, eating their flesh and dumping the remains behind the bungalow. When the authorities were not willing to talk, the news channels took sound bites of the locals and those who were living outside Nithari, but had something to say.
Batra was one of them. However, for him, the killings were not just about the master-servant duo, currently lodged in Ghaziabad’s Dasna jail. “It was a systematic failure. Had they paid attention to these cases earlier, these serial killings would have been prevented,” he told a news channel. “I will file applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to see if there were any lapses on the part of the authorities,” he added. In the last three years, Batra has filed 22 RTI applications on the issue. The information he obtained, shows how the apathy of various agencies resulted in what, according to CBI judge, Rama Jain, is “a blot on society and stain on the present generation.”
It began with Batra’s visit to D-5. He was convinced that if the drains around the bungalow were cleaned regularly, the bodies could have been discovered much earlier. In response to his RTI application, the Noida authority informed him that the drains in Noida were cleaned after a gap of every 15 to 30 days. The last time the authority cleaned the drain outside D-5 was between December 20 and 23, 2006- just six days before the Nithari killings became public.
“If the cleaning of the drains was taking place as usual, then why did not they find anything unusual?” asks Batra. The committee set up by the Ministry of Women and Child Development to probe the killings, also pointed out to the laxity on the part of the Noida authority. “In the Nithari case, if the administration had cleaned the sewerage system on a regular basis, the bodies would have been discovered much earlier and probably some deaths could have been prevented,” the report said.
More important was the role of the Noida police. As per media reports, the girls, majority of them working as maids were going missing, for at least 24 months before the expose. “When I filed RTI application in the Noida police asking what it did to trace the missing children, I thought the cops would harass me. But surprisingly, it was smooth ride. They gave the information without any issues,” recalls Batra.
According to the information, the Noida police went to 34 locations to investigate the Nithari killings. However, the first visit was made only in march 2006 (nine months before the expose) when Nithari post in -charge K.P. Singh went to seelampur and brahampuri in North East Delhi. There was a catch: Noida Police’s reply to the RTI application came on February 19, 2007 and till then no police official had claimed any expenditure for these trips. “On whose cost they travelled then”?
The goof- ups do not end here. Six girls had disappeared from Nithari by July 2005. Police would not register First Information Report, shooing away the parents of these girls, majority of them household workers and laborers. Disappointed, they wrote a letter to the National Commission for Women (NCW) in August 2005.
Based on the documents obtained by Batra, the following is an account of how NCW probed the matter. On August 10, 2005, the NCW formed a one member committee headed by Nirmala Venkatesh. Seventy two days later, Venkatesh submitted a three page report to Girija Vyas, chairperson of the commission. On Novemberer 9, 2005, the NCW sent a notice to Piyush Mordia, then Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Gautam Budhh Nagar, to send an Action Taken Report (ATR) within three weeks. However, the next communication between the NCW and Noida police happened not after three weeks, but on January 2, 2007- three days after Nithari had become a household name. This time, the NCW sent a legal notice UP chief secretary and Director General of Police, Gautam Budh Nagar, saying that the enquiry report prepared by Nirmala Venkatesh was sent to SSP Mordia, but the Noida police never send the ATR as asked by the commission.
Interestingly, the NCW did not send any reminder to the Noida police when it did not receive the mentioned ATR within three weeks. DGP wrote back, puncturing the claims made by the NCW. According to DGP’s response, the NCW notice was never received by the Noida SSP and only 5 girls were missing when NCW did the enquiry and not six as mentioned in that report.
Batra discovered that both the allegations made by the DGP were wrong. He obtained a letter from NCW files. This was written by SSP, GBN, on December 12, 2005. This letter has reference to the November 9, 2005 notice sent by the NCW. “The DGP said that the SSP had not received the notice in 2005. Then how come there was a reference to this notice here?” says he.
Secondly, in response to an RTI application, the Noida police gave the progress report of six girls. “In response to the NCW’s letter, they are saying that there were five girls. But when I asked the progress report of the cases, they gave me the report of six. What is it if not carelessness?”
Just after the killings went public, the media and civil society started questioning the role of the commission, which has the powers of a civil court. To come clean, Venkatesh told the media that she had summoned Noida SSP Moidra ‘twice’ and she also wrote to UP chief minister regarding the same. The response to Batra’s RTI applications reveal that the NCW summoned Mordia only once (on August 30, 2005) and not twice as she told the media. Also, the commission wrote to the CM in January 2007- after the killings became public.
“They are all negligent,” says Batra, who has a cupboard full of NCW files. Is it easy managing these documents? “Don’t ask me. (after a pause) “But I cannot leave it like this. Someone has to take it forward,” says he, pointing to a quotation pasted on the top of his computer screen reading “Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.”
Next in Batra’s line of fire, was the Central Bureau of Investigation, which took over the case on January 9, 2007. On December 22, 2009, Batra filed an RTI application in the investigating agency. Among other details, he asked the agency if it has carried out invensigations to probe the lapses on the part the authorities who were in a position n to save many lives if they had performed their duties in a professional manner. “CBI has not carried out any investigation in this regard,” was the reply he received through a letter dated January 20, 2010.
“People’s memory is short. They are no more interested in this case. True, I have highlighted lapses on the part of the authorities, but these revelations have not changed anything…which is sad,” says he. Though getting it is Batra’s aim to fix accountability in the Nithari killings, he has used the transparency act in other issues as well.
He is fighting a battle to make it possible for the Indians living abroad to file RTI applications from the country where they are living. “Do not confuse it with the NRIs. We are talking even about those Indian residents who are out to visit any other country and wish to use the RTI act on that trip,” he clarifies.
It is because of his efforts that in February 2010, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs asked the government to make appropriate arrangements for the same.
In December last year, Batra filed an RTI application in the supreme court registry in which he sought to know from the number of such cases prior to December 31, 2007, where arguments were heard, but judgment was reserved. He demanded similar data for the year 2008 and 2009.
He was astonished by the reply which said that the data was not maintained in the registry in the manner sought by him. “All the judgments of the Hon’ble Court are reported in Law Journals and all the judgments/orders are also available on the Supreme Court website and can be downloaded there from,’ it further said.
Interestingly, Batra filed a similar application in the Delhi high court which gave him the data. The case will now be heard by the central information commission.
Stories you might like