POLICE ON Sunday lodged an FIR in connection with the death of a 46-year-old Dalit RTI activist, who played a crucial role in busting a multi-crore SC/ST scholarship distribution scam in Uttarakhand in 2013, after his family members alleged that he was murdered and it was made to look like a case of accidental firing.
Pankaj Lamba, who was also a government contractor, died in his hometown Haridwar on Friday of a bullet injury at a house he was visiting on the invitation of two of his associates for a party, the police said. They said they were investigating claims of the associates that he had given his licenced pistol to a minor girl – who lived in that house along with her three minor siblings – and that she pulled the trigger. The bullet hit Lamba on the neck.
Haridwar SSP Senthil Avoodai K Raj S said the FIR – under IPC provisions relating to murder among others – was registered Sunday morning after Lamba’s family questioned the claims of the associates – one Kasim and a minor – and others.
“The police are investigating in a fair and professional manner,” he said. No arrests have been made so far.
The police said they found the pistol along with a licenced rifle – also belonging to Lamba – from the room where the firing took place, along with liquor bottles and food items.
“Five people, including Lamba, were present in that room. According to the others, Lamba gave his pistol to the girl to look at, assuming it was empty. He was apparently unaware that there was a bullet left in the pistol’s chamber and when the girl pulled the trigger, he got hit,” said a police officer who is investigating the case.
The minor girl – who the police said has admitted to the firing – and her siblings have been living in the rented accommodation for the past few months, they said. Their father, who works in Delhi, visited them every week.
Dismissing the claims of accidental firing, Lamba’s wife Jyoti said in her complaint to the police that he was home Friday evening when Kasim and another person came around 11.30 pm.
They asked Lamba to accompany them for a site inspection where construction material was being stolen. Between 2 am and 3 am, a person who identified himself as Ajay Maurya called her to inform that Lamba had suffered a bullet injury. She alleged that Kasim and others conspired and killed Lamba.
Lamba’s sister Priya also alleged conspiracy and murder, apart from efforts to malign the activist’s image. “The police’s claim of firing by the girl and recovery of liquor bottles is an attempt to malign his image so that my family does not pursue the matter. I believe that he was killed at some other place and his body were planted at another spot.”
She said Lamba had exposed the scholarship scam.
“As investigation into that matter is going on and lot of people were involved. He often received threat calls and was provided security a few years ago. But for the past two or three years, there has been no police security. He used to move around with his licenced firearms,” he said.
The police, however, said Lamba had not informed the local police station about threat to life.
Two Special Investigation Teams are investigating the scholarship scam for the past one year following orders from the High Court. IG Sanjay Gunjyal, who is heading one of the teams in 11 districts, said 73 FIRs have been lodged and 58 people arrested. The other SIT is probing into the irregularities in the remaining two districts of Dehradun and Haridwar.