Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN

NAGPUR: Even as the Madhya Pradesh police are groping in the dark in RTI activist Shehla Masood's daylight murder in Bhopal, Rio Tinto, a premiere international mining and resources company, has denied its role in the killing.

Masood, a Madhya Pradesh-based civil and environmental rights activist, was shot dead by unidentified men in front of her residence in Koh-e-Fiza locality in Bhopal around 11am on August 16, while she was on way to take part in the anti-corruption rally at the Boat Club.

Wildlife activists and NGOs with whom Masood was closely associated have alleged that her brutal murder may be connected with her raising the issue of Rio Tinto's diamond mining project in Chhattarpur (MP) and other controversial issues - information for which she had sought under the RTI Act.

However, Nik Senapati, managing director of Rio Tinto India, told TOI that the company never "met Shehla Masood nor had any interaction with her". Senapati further said that Rio Tinto is a leading mining and metals group operating in 50 countries and employing over 70,000 people. "All our work is conducted at the highest ethical standards. In 2004, Rio Tinto made news with the discovery of a significant diamond deposit at the Bunder project in Chhattarpur," he said.

Meanwhile, even after eight days, MP police have not been able to arrest a single suspect. Officials in the state home ministry whom TOI tried to contact chose not to speak on the issue.

MP director general of police (DGP) SK Rout was not available for comments and nor did he respond to an e-mail sent to him. Additional secretary (home) Mohd Shahid Absar said he was not monitoring day-to-day progress of the case and hence was not in a position to comment.

Absar only said the state government has sent a proposal to the CBI to take over the investigations. "But as of now there is no response from the central agency," he said.

Investigating officer (IO) and PI of Koh-e-Fiza police station, Dharmendra Tomar, stated that it was a "blind murder" allegedly committed by a person very close to Shehla. "We have registered a case of murder under section 302," he said. Tomar claimed that Masood's family members are not cooperating and hence "We have no clues. We want to know from them who were her friends and enemies," said Tomar. He ruled out the hand of any "outside forces" in the murder.

Terming the non-cooperation charges as baseless, Masood's father Sultan said, "The police are lying, we have fully cooperated. I have also learnt that 4 eyewitnesses have been identified by the police." Sultan feels that either the builder lobby or a diamond mining company could be behind Masood's murder. "Shehla had repeatedly sought RTI information from the MP government on their infringements." he said.

Masood, in a letter written to DGP Rout on January 19 2010, which is in TOI's possession, had said that she faced a threat from IPS officer Pawan Shrivastava, director with culture department then, but TOI learned that Shrivastava is not being questioned.

Ajay Dubey, president of Prayatna, a Bhopal-based NGO fighting to save tigers from threats like mining and poaching, demanded protection to RTI activists who are being threatened for exposing sensitive information. "MP, which was dubbed a 'Bimaru' state five years ago, is fast turning into a corporate hub. With corporate culture creeping in, threats to those raising their voice against violations by these companies are also increasing," Dubey told TOI.

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