Trial of Goa health minister begins

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Panaji, Jan 14 (UNI) The trial of Goa's Health Minister Vishwajeet Rane, in the case relating to his alleged threat to kill NGO Utt Goenkara spokesman Advocate Aires Rodrigues, began today before the Judicial Magistrate First Class (JMFC), Panaji, Mr Edgar Fernandes.

In his 45-minute deposition before the court, Rodrigues said that on July 31 last, while he was at his Ribandar office, he had received a call on his mobile from the minister, who allegedly said, ''This is Vishwajeet Rane. Be careful. I will get you shot''.

He said the minister made the call after the NGO exposed the acts of omission and commission, including his alleged involvement in the construction of the Charvanem Dam where thousands of trees were illegally cut, auctioning of government jobs and involvement in the Miramar sex scandal.

The NGO, he said, was agitated with Viswajeet Rane as the son of then chief minister Pratapsingh Rane was allegedly acting like the de-facto Chief Minister and running the administration.

As Advocate Shailendra Bhobe, appearing for Mr Rane, sought time to cross examine Rodrigues as the accused had engaged the services of Mr Ram Jethamalani, the JMFC adjourned the trial to January 25.

The Health minister faces charges under sec 506 (II) of Indian Penal Code which carries a punishment of imprisonment of seven years or fine, or both.

Rane, a first time minister, who has already been released on a surety and personal bond of Rs 10,000 each in the case, is Goa's only minister to face trial in a private criminal complaint on threat to kill charges.

In a major setback to the minister, North Goa Sessions Judge Mr U V Bakre on December 14 last, dismissed the Criminal Appeal filed by Mr Rane, stating that there was sufficient ground for proceeding against him under section 506 (ii) of Indian Penal Code with prima facie evidence available.

The JMFC, Panaji, on January 11 dismissed an application filed by the minister under section 210 of the Criminal Procedure Code seeking a stay of the trial against him, ruling that the procedure as laid down by law had been followed before the commencement of trial.

The minister, who had initially stated that he did not even know Rodrigues and denied having made the call, later on interrogation made a volte-face and confessed to the Old Goa Police of having made the call from his wife Divya Rane's mobile phone.

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