IAMC Weekly News Roundup - October 10th, 2011 - IAMC
no-image IAMC

IAMC Weekly News Roundup – October 10th, 2011

In this issue of IAMC News Roundup

News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials

Cops want to destroy papers in Sanjiv Bhatt’s possession: Teesta Setalvad (Oct 5, 2011, DNA India)

Why are the city police so desperately demanding access to arrested IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt’s bank lockers or what were they looking for when they carried out searches at his house and that of his mother? Sources believe that Bhatt is in possession of many crucial documents which could put many officials and politicians in trouble if they became public.

The police have sought the court’s permission to check Bhatt’s bank lockers. The court is yet to decide on their petition but the urgency shown by the police has raised questions about their intention. “The suggestion that the Gujarat police should be allowed to search Bhatt’s lockers is shocking and ludicrous as it is tantamount to allowing the accused access to evidence using a key given by a witness,” said Teesta Setalvad, convenor of the human rights organisation, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP).

Bhatt is a crucial witness in several cases in which senior functionaries of the Gujarat government are accused of conspiring to commit mass crimes, destroying evidence and subverting the course of justice. “Chief minister Narendra Modi is accused number 1 in the criminal complaint of Zakia Jafri. But he is also in-charge of the Annual Confidential Reports of all police officers. Such a search would allow the powerful accused to destroy evidence,” Setalvad said.

The police have already conducted raids on Bhatt’s residence and that of his mother but the only thing they could seize was a CPU from his home. Talking to DNA, former DGP RB Sreekumar said that the police may be after the documents which Bhatt is believed to have in his possession and which could nail the accused in the post-Godhra riots.



[Back to Top]

Bhatt’s arrest: US groups write to Prez, PM; warn to launch global campaign (Oct 5, 2011, Twocircles.net)

The Coalition Against Genocide, an advocacy coalition of around three dozen civil society groups in the United States, has sought intervention of President of India, Prime Minister and Chief Justice of India in the case of the arrest of whistle-blower Gujarat IPS officer Sanjeev Bhatt.

The Coalition Against Geneocide on 5th October wrote a letter to President of India, Smt. Pratibha Devsingh Patil, Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh and Chief Justice of India, Justice S. H. Kapadia, urging them to act without delay in this matter.

Bhatt was arrested on 30th September for allegedly confining his junior and taking his forced signatures on illegal documents to substantiate his charges against Chief Minister Narendra Modi. Bhatt earlier this year had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court of India directly holding Modi for the riots. Bhatta had said that the CM Modi had asked police officers in the emergency meeting on 28th Feb 2002 to go soft on Hindus if they come out to vent their anger for the Godhra train carnage.

The US group warned to launch an international campaign on Bhatt’s behalf if the Central Government did not take corrective action to ensure his safety, and to bring an end to this vengeful retaliation against him. …



[Back to Top]

Narendra Modi to blame if Sanjeev Bhatt is harmed: Abhishek Manu Singhvi (Oct 4, 2011, India Today)

Rights activists and suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt’s supporters on Monday took the protest against his arrest to the street and alleged that the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat was trying to throttle the voices of dissent and intimidating the key witnesses in the 2002 riot cases. While Bhatt’s wife Shweta has written to the Union home minister for ensuring her husband’s safety, former Gujarat DGP R.B. Sreekumar led a sit-in at Jantar Mantar that was also attended by Bollywood director Mahesh Bhatt and activist Shabnam Hashmi.

Issuing a veiled warning to Modi, the Congress said the Gujarat CM would be responsible if “anything untoward happens” to Bhatt. “He is now charged with Sections of the IPC which were not there in the FIR. His family has expressed a bona fide apprehension that he would be liquidated,” AICC spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said. “Modi’s word is the law. If he raises his eye-brow with disfavour, somebody’s fundamental rights must be crushed… The BJP and Modi have thrown all democratic spirit, all republican norms to the wind. What pervades this BJP-ruled state is the ethics of intolerance – narcissistic megalomania – a vendetta of hatred against all those who dare to voice democratic opposition,” he added.

Sreekumar said the few officers speaking out against the Gujarat CM were being victimised. Sreekumar was posted as the additional DGP (intelligence) in 2002 and has given evidence against the state’s laxity. He said the police officers opposed to Modi were suffering – “starting with me, then IPS officer Rahul Sharma and now Bhatt”. “This is very dangerous… this imposition of Section 194 (against Bhatt) because it means that if a person is convicted he can be given the death penalty,” he said, adding: “Modi thinks that his electoral victory was a licence to subvert the Constitution, laws and even the basic Hindu philosophy. The greatest threat to Hindus is from the Sangh Parivar.”

The trial court on Monday served a notice on the state government on Bhatt’s bail plea even as Bhatt’s supporters from the civil society hit the streets to oppose his arrest. While the court had rejected the police’s remand petition and sent Bhatt to judicial custody on Saturday, the police are likely to file a review petition to seek Bhatt’s remand on Tuesday. The Gujarat-cadre IPS officer was arrested after constable K.D. Panth filed an FIR alleging that Bhatt had forced him to sign a false affidavit pertaining to the controversial meeting held at the chief minister’s residence on February 28, 2002, where Modi had allegedly asked senior police officers to allow Hindus to vent their ire on the minorities.

Meanwhile, Gujarat DGP Chittaranjan Singh said PCC chief Arjun Modwadia may be questioned in connection with Bhatt’s arrest “if the need arises”. He, however, clarified that there was no case against Modwadia as per the FIR filed by constable Panth. Gujarat government’s spokesperson-minister Jay Narayan Vyas said Bhatt’s arrest had nothing to do with the government. But taking potshots at the Congress, he said: “The arrest has exposed the attempts by the Congress and the anti-Modi NGOs to save the IPS officer… as is confirmed by their 24×7 operations to malign the government.”



[Back to Top]

Gulbarg victims move court to seek direction to SIT to submit probe details (Oct 5, 2011, DNA India)

The victims of Gulbarg society massacre have moved an application before the designated court, seeking direction to the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to submit all documents regarding investigation against the involvement of police officials in the riot case, before the court.

The court issued notice to the SIT and asked the agency to file a reply by October 18. SM Vora, advocate for the victims, said that they had earlier moved an application before the designated court to direct the SIT to probe the role of senior police officials namely PC Pande, MK Tandon, DC Gondhia and SS Chudasma in the riot case.

“The court had reserved the hearing as the case was pending before the Apex Court. However, as the Apex Court has now lifted the stay, we have moved the application,” Vora added.



[Back to Top]

Soharabuddin case witness escapes from police custody, held again (Oct 9, 2011, Indian Express)

Sylvester, a key witness in the Soharabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case, made a dramatic escape from Gujarat Police custody but was rearrested on late Saturday night. Sylvester, who fled after being produced in a court in Udaipur, was picked up by a Special Task Force of Rajasthan police from Gopalpura area in Udaipur near the Vrindavan Garden at around 2230 hours. “Acting on a tip-off, the special team arrested him”, IG, Udaipur, Govind Gupta, said. A loaded pistol was seized from Sylvester, Anil Deval, STF officer who arrested him, said.

Vadodara Police Commissioner Satish Sharma said Sylvester was arrested as he tried to enter his house in Udaipur which had been cordoned off. There were different versions of how Sylvester, an alleged accomplice of Sheikh, managed to escape. While the Rajasthan Police claimed that he gave the slip on the pretext of going to the toilet, the Gujarat Police said he fled when they stopped for tea near the highway last night. Sylvester, alias Dipu, was an important witness for CBI which is probing the Soharabuddin Sheikh fake encounter case.

He was brought to Udaipur in connection with the murder of another alleged gangster Hamid Lala. CBI has sought a detailed report from the Gujarat Police on the incident, agency sources said in Ahmedabad. Sylvester escaped when the police vehicle in which he was being taken back to Gujarat broke down near Reti stand in Udaipur last night, Gupta said. “The accused Sylvester, alias Dipu, was produced in a local court by a team of Gujarat Police and was being taken back to Gujarat when he managed to escape from their custody,” he said.

On the pretext of going to the toilet, he managed to escape from the scene, Gupta said. However, Gujarat police claimed Sylvester escaped when the police party stopped on the highway for tea. A complaint in this regard has been registered in Udaipur, he said. Sylvester, who was lodged in Vadodara jail, was an accused in a ransom case.

Sheikh was killed in an alleged fake encounter on November 26, 2005. 14 policemen including three IPS officers are behind bars in the encounter case. CBI believes Sylvester could be holding some important leads in connection with the Soharabbudin fake encounter and the subsequent murder of his wife Kausar Bi.



[Back to Top]

SIT asked to submit final report on Ishrat case by November 18 (Oct 8, 2011, The Hindu)

The Gujarat High Court on Friday asked the Special Investigation Team, probing the Ishrat Jahan encounter case, to submit its final report by November 18, and fixed the next hearing for November 21. When the SIT submitted an interim report, a Division Bench of Justices Jayant Patel and Abhilasha Kumari expressed satisfaction over the progress in the probe into the June 15, 2004, encounter killing of the Mumbra (Mumbai) college girl and three others near Kotarpur on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Since the appointment of Bihar cadre IPS officer R. R. Verma as SIT chief, investigation had made “substantial progress and was almost nearing completion,” the court said.

The investigation faced rough weather in the past as four IPS officers either resigned or refused to take over as SIT chief. Mr. Verma was appointed SIT chief only a few months ago. After submitting its interim report, the SIT told the Bench that it would need some more time to conduct a few more tests and seek clarifications from the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL). The court authorised the SIT to conduct psychological tests on witnesses who have retracted their earlier statements. Mr. Verma said the CFSL team would have to come again to recreate the encounter scene, a second time to help it conduct some more tests.

The court asked the SIT to get clarifications from experts of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences on the ‘rigor mortis’ aspect of the post mortem report that indicated the time of death. The court rejected the demand of the petitioner’s advocate Mukul Sinha for seeing the SIT’s Action Taken Report. “You are not monitoring the case, the court is,” the Bench tersely told him.



[Back to Top]

NHRC pulls up prisons dept for custodial deaths (Oct 5, 2011, Times of India)

The state prisons department has come under fire from the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) as it directed the department to pay compensation to families of three who died in jail. A convict, G Subba Rao, lodged in Central Prison, Rajahmundry, reportedly committed suicide by slashing his left wrist with a steel glass provided to him for drinking water on June 14, 2006. In response to a show cause issued by the NHRC, the prisons department on July 14, 2011 had informed that the HIV positive convict was also suffering from ‘bilateral hydrocele.’ He was being provided treatment, the department told the commission. It also stated that there was a shortage of guards in the jail and that it was difficult to keep a close watch on prisoners to prevent such incidents.

“The state has the obligation to prevent a prisoner in its custody from doing any harm to himself. For this breach of duty, the state must bear the reparations,” the commission ruled recommending that the family of the deceased be paid a compensation of Rs one lakh by October 12, 2011. In another case, the commission ordered payment of a compensation of Rs 25,000 to the family of a remand prisoner, Kaki Seenu, who had died in the sub-jail in Kakinada on December 19, 2008. The prisoner had complained of bronchitis and weighed only 40 kg when he was shifted to the jail. He was not provided any treatment for his ailment. Though the ‘proforma for health screening of prisoner on admission to jail’ provides for blood test for hepatitis/STD including HIV, the required blood test was not carried out at the time of the prisoner’s admission in jail.

The commission also got the expert opinion of Dr Adarsh Kumar, associate professor, AIIMS, New Delhi in connection with the disease and its symptoms to come to the conclusion that the prisoner had died due to medical negligence. The family of Kaki Seen is to be paid the compensation by the prison’s department by October 6, 2011. The NHRC, which has taken the deaths of prisoners in jail seriously, found fault with the prisons department even in the case of the death of an under-trial Podium Bheemaiah on December 14, 2006. The family of the prisoner who had died at MGM Hospital, Warangal will be paid a compensation of Rs one lakh.

In response to the show cause notice issued to the state chief secretary on Bheemaiah’s death, the prisons department had furnished a reply, but the commission came to the conclusion that the prisoner died of medical negligence. “The commission is of the opinion that the deceased had died in judicial custody because of negligence on the part of the jail staff in providing proper medical treatment to the deceased,” the commission said. The compensation is to be paid to the family of Bheemaiah by October 8, 2010. The NHRC is not just going by the reports furnished by the prisons department and is relying on expert opinion. Even in Bheemaiah’s death, it went by the opinion of the department of forensic medicine, AIIMS, New Delhi, which went through the medical records of the deceased.



[Back to Top]

Sanatan Sanstha ashram raided in Goa by NIA (Oct 4, 2011, Thaindian.com)

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) raided the right wing Hindu organisation Sanatan Sanstha’s headquarters located in North Goa’s Ponda Tuesday night. NIA officials raided the residential as well as official quarters of the ashram at Ramnathi, 30 km from here, of the Sanatan Sanstha, whose members have been chargesheeted for carrying out blasts in Goa as well as several parts of Maharashtra over the last few years.

Superintendent of Police (North) of the Goa Police Arvind Gawas said that the state police personnel were accompanying the NIA officials. “The NIA has raided the premises. They had asked us to provide police protection,” Gawas told IANS.

The raid followed attempts made by the Maharashtra government to ban the Sanatan Sanstha, for the organisation’s involvement in various illegal activities which included a bomb blast in a Thane (Maharashtra) cinema hall in 2008 and other blasts in other districts of Maharashtra and Goa.



[Back to Top]

CBI takes a close look at Gopalgarh violence (Oct 9, 2011, The Hindu)

A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team arrived at Gopalgarh town in Bharatpur district over the weekend to undertake probe into the last month’s violence which had claimed 10 lives. The Rajasthan Government had written to the Centre seeking a CBI investigation into the case after a public outcry over the alleged police firing. The nine-member team included experts from the Central Forensic Science Laboratory. During its preliminary investigation, the team visited the place where a clash between Gujjars and Meo Muslims had occurred and saw the mosque in which several of the victims had died.

According to official sources, the team prepared a map of the location and recorded the statements of three eyewitnesses. The team members met the people from both the communities and sought to know the sequence of events that had led to the violent clash and firing on September 14. The team members also interacted with Bharatpur Range Inspector-General of Police Anand Srivastava, Collector Gaurav Goyal and Superintendent of Police Vikas Kumar. The three officers were posted to the district recently after the removal of their predecessors. When some local residents pointed out that the evidence of bullet holes and bloodstains in the Jama Masjid might have been tampered with by the local police, the CBI team reportedly observed that this fact would be incorporated in the probe.

Even as the post-mortem of three of the deceased had confirmed that they fell to the police bullets, the CBI has sought autopsy reports of all the victims to get them examined independently. The team gave indications during its visit that it would also examine the “distortion of evidence”. The team members also visited the land over which the dispute had originally started with conflicting claims made about its status as a graveyard and pasture land. The police would hand over all the evidence seized by them to the CBI to facilitate probe by the premier investigating agency.

The local police have so far registered 25 first information reports in the case, including the one lodged by the father of a victim with the charges of murder against the then Collector Krishna Kunal and SP Hinglaj Dan for allegedly ordering firing on the mosque. Curfew in the “small eastern Rajasthan town and the nearby areas in the jurisdiction of five police stations is still continuing during the night. Markets, schools, mandis, offices and commercial establishments are functioning during the day with normality returning to the region.



[Back to Top]

Police raid at the house of Kavita Srivastava condemned (Oct 4, 2011, Twocircles.net)

Civil groups have strongly condemned Monday’s police raid at the Jaipur house of eminent social activist and General Secretary of People’s Union For Civil Liberties, Kavita Srivastava. The raid was carried out by Chhattisgarh police in collaboration with the Rajasthan police on the false pretext of hiding some Maoists. “We strongly condemn the raid on the house of Kavita Srivastava, General Secretary of the PUCL by Chhatisgarh police in the early morning of 3 October, 2011 conducted in collaboration with the Jaipur police. They alleged that there was information of some dreaded Maoists hiding in the house of Kavita Srivastava. The raid was done in a completely illegal manner violating the sections of the CRPC related to search. Neither did the raid party have independent persons with it nor did it give the search papers to the members of the family of Kavita as is the norm. We condemn this cavalier attitude of the police,” eminent civil rights activists said in a joint statement on Monday night.

Kavita has been consistently speaking and fighting against human rights violations in Chhatisgarh in the name of fighting Maoist militancy. She has been protesting against Salwa Judum and Operation Green Hunt. She has been instrumental in mobilizing support for Binayak Sen. She has also been struggling against the extraordinary laws like the Chhatisgarh Special Public Security Act and AFSPA. Apart from this, she has been vocal on various issues concerning Muslim community also. She condemned and highlighted the highhandedness of Rajasthan police during the Bharatpur riot in which 10 Meo Muslims were killed. She has raised the issue of Bengali speaking Muslims particularly when they were picked, harassed and uprooted after the May 2008 Jaipur serial bombings.

“The police raid on the Jaipur residence of Kavita Srivastava is clearly an act of intimidation by the Chhatisgarh government which has been warning human rights activists that any criticism of Salwa Judum or Green Hunt or any support for those held, tortured or killed in the state operation against Maoists is to be treated as support for the Maoists and would not be tolerated. The government of Chhatisgarh and the central officials have time and again hinted that they treat all kinds of human rights activism as a smoke screen for Maoist activities. The harassment of human right activists is aimed at tiring them out of action, implicating them in false anti-state legal cases thus disabling them,” the activists said. They have demanded an unconditional apology from the Chhatisgarh and Rajasthan governments and asked them to desist from such machinations.

Signatories to the statement were: Rupesh (Lok Parishad), Arshad Ajmal, Apoorvanand, Ajay Kumar, Vikash Kumar, R. C. Prasad, Vishvajeet Kumar (AISF), Tanveer Akhtar (IPTA), Sudha Vergies (NAWO), Neelu (Bihar Women Network), C.A. Priyadarshi (JSV), Parth Savker, Satish Kumar, Kapileshwar, Father Philip Manthra, Vinay Kantha, Vinay Ohdar.



[Back to Top]

Opinions and Editorials

Time to blow the lid off – Rana Ayyub (Oct 15, 2011, Tehelka)

Truth will out, they say. In the case of the sensational murder of former Gujarat home minister Haren Pandya on 26 March 2003, the adage could well prove true. Especially after the arrest of suspended IPS officer Sanjeev Bhatt, who filed an affidavit in the Gujarat High Court last week stating that former minister of state for home Amit Shah and Chief Minister Narendra Modi asked him to destroy important evidence he had collected pertaining to the case. It was Bhatt who alleged that important state functionaries were involved in Pandya’s murder and that it was not Asghar Ali, who was named as accused. Instead, Bhatt said, the man who had pulled the trigger on Pandya was Tulsi Prajapati, acting on the orders of some police officers. Bhatt stated that none other than Ali, then an undertrial, revealed this secret to him while he was the superintendent of Sabarmati Jail in 2003. Whether Bhatt’s statement can be given credence is a matter of debate. He could be asked why he kept mum for eight years. Moreover, what is the value of a statement made by a prisoner to a jail official? Even if Bhatt’s allegations were to be brushed aside, there have been a number of revelations in the past year to cast doubts on the CBI probe. In fact, it was these bits of evidence and finally the acquittal of all 12 accused in the case that pushed Pandya’s widow Jagruti to approach the HC and the Supreme Court for a reinvestigation.

The investigation was mired in controversy ever since the CBI took over the case in 2003. Pandya’s father Vitthal had outright accused Modi of having conspired to kill his son and misleading the CBI probe with help from then deputy prime minister LK Advani. Pandya had taken on Modi publicly by not vacating the Ellisbridge seat and had also deposed in front of an independent team of judges probing the 2002 riots case, making statements that could indict Modi. The web is quite tangled. The CBI probe into the fake encounter that killed Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kauser Bi saw the arrest of Shah for his alleged connivance with the cops. Now the agency, on the orders of the SC, is investigating the encounter that took the life of Sohrabuddin’s associate Prajapati. Last year, Deputy Commissioner Abhay Chudasama was one of the first officers to be arrested in the case. This was when a henchman, Azam Khan, said that Chudasma had told him to convey to Munna, Sohrabuddin’s brother, that he (Chudasama) had saved Sohrabuddin from getting involved in the Pandya murder case. Within days, Khan retracted it. He later said he was coerced into retracting the statement at the behest of Anti-Terror Squad SP Girish Singhal.

Khan was later shot at in Udaipur – some say he got himself wounded. But before this rumour could gain ground, IPS officer Geeta Johri filed a curative petition in the SC. Johri, who was monitoring the Sohrabuddin case before it was taken over by Rajnish Rai, has been accused of going slow on the investigation at Shah’s behest. Johri was indicted for hiding the fact that the third person travelling with Sohrabuddin was Prajapati. Johri had said, “Nayeemuddin of Hyderabad, who is one of the absconding accused in the Pandya case, is none else than Kalimuddin, a known People’s War Group leader-turned-police informer. Kalimuddin was an associate of Sohrabuddin. If the Gujarat Police had known that Kalimuddin and Nayeemuddin were the same person, we would have arrested him earlier.” This statement was further grist to the suspicion mill that there were indeed cover- ups in the Pandya investigation by the administration. It was for this reason that Jagruti wrote a letter to the CBI director on 16 September 2010 seeking a reinvestigation under Section 173(8) of the CrPC. She cited 16 points that should have been looked at by the CBI. The CBI officials TEHELKA spoke to said that there was no precedent for a reinvestigation.

However, the government’s discomfort soon became obvious as Jagruti approached Modi and Advani during the former’s sadbhavana fast, close on the heels of her approaching the Union Home Ministry for a reinvestigation. Advani later met her in Delhi and sought to placate her. However, what soon followed was a witchhunt as a team of IB officials allegedly followed her and searched her house in her absence, questioning her teenaged son and her bedridden father. She has now sent a legal notice to the state home department as well as the police for harassing her so that she does not seek justice. “When I called (Commissioner of Police) Sudhir Sinha, he refused to accept that the men who had come to search the house were from his department. So I’m now approaching the Gujarat home department with the statements from these alleged IB guys. Why have they launched a witch-hunt against me when all I’m trying to do is piece together the mystery of my husband’s death? What is it that the state fears?” she asked. If one were to keep aside the statements and the revelations that have been popping out in the past year, going by sheer facts of the case, one can easily see glaring loopholes in the investigation done not just by the CBI, but also the initial police probe: First, the curious case of Mufti Sufiyan, the cleric from Lal Masjid in Ahmedabad and the alleged mastermind of the Pandya killing, who escaped within days of the murder. This, when the police was keeping a tab on his house. Moreover, while the police and the CBIwere grilling his family on his whereabouts, his wife and daughter also managed to abscond within a year. Why is it that Sufiyan’s father praises Chudasama, who was then with the Ahmedabad Crime Branch? Why did Chudasama promise the family, if his father is to be believed, that no harm would come to them? While the CBI, which was handed over the initial probe by the Crime Branch, claims it had a watertight case, a logical question that could be asked is: Why could the CBI team investigating the case not send a letter rogatory for tracing Sufiyan?

Second, the CBI investigating officer claims that Pandya’s call records of March 2003 could not be found, while those of the two previous months were provided. These records, a copy of which is with TEHELKA, show 40 calls made by a female journalist from Ahmedabad. Surprisingly, neither the CBI nor the police quizzed her. Third, prime witness Anil Yadram, who runs a food cart near Law Garden and had allegedly witnessed the murder, has given contradictory statements. He told the police that he was too confused to react but an hour later called the owner of his cart, who in turned called Pandya’s associate – but not the police. When TEHELKA met Yadram, he gave three contradictory statements on all three days. On Day 1, he said Ali came on a bike; Day 2, he said he saw him walk towards the car; Day 3, he did not remember the chain of events. Fourth, as per the forensic report, there were six holes in Pandya’s kurta. But only five bullets were found in his body. If he was sitting behind the steering wheel and the weapon was fired from the right window, which was part-open, he should not have suffered any wound in the scrotum. The prosecution explained and the judge accepted that he fell sideways on the passenger seat, but this seems improbable. And fifth, an FIR filed by the police control room log showed confusion or delay. With these loopholes and the changing stance of witnesses, it was only natural that the HC, in a shocking move, acquitted all 12 accused in the case last month and also ruled that there was no evidence to prove that Ali had shot Pandya. With new revelations cropping up by the day, it becomes imperative to clear the air over this sensational murder of a politician.



[Back to Top]

Sandur in September – By Vikhar Ahmed Sayeed (Oct 8, 2011, Frontline)

Many stories that resonate across the hills and plains of Bellary district in Karnataka have a common preface: “China boom”. Everybody in the mineral-rich district – be it a farmer, truck driver, steel mill worker, schoolteacher, doctor, bureaucrat, politician, small shop owner, hotelier, mine owner, journalist or social worker – has been affected in one way or the other by China’s rising demand for iron ore since 2004 and the rampant illegal mining that left the earth scourged. The turning points in these stories are the Supreme Court’s order on July 29 banning mining and the arrest of the mining baron and former Karnataka Tourism Minister G. Janardhana Reddy in the first week of September. Janardhana Reddy and his brothers, known as the Gali Reddy brothers, along with their friend B. Sriramulu, were in control of much of the mining in the district. A report of the Karnataka Lokayukta on July 27 revealed hazy dealings that had shrouded the mining activities of the Reddy brothers (“Final blow”, Frontline, August 26, 2011). So powerful were they that many people in Bellary, Hospet and Sandur (BHS) taluks in the district thought that the arrest of any of the Reddy brothers was improbable. With a ban on mining in place, many people hope that the next chapter in the saga of Bellary could be bright. A Supreme Court-appointed committee consisting of scientists from the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) and other environmental bodies was in Bellary in September to evaluate the situation ahead of preparing an Environmental Impact Assessment report. This EIA will form the basis of the next course of action in Bellary.

The court has also directed the State government to submit a reclamation and rehabilitation plan for the district. However, responses are mixed as to what should be the next step. Moolimane Eeranna, a farmer from Sandur, who owns two acres of land (one acre is 0.4 hectare), is vociferous in opposing mining. He told Frontline that the iron ore dumped on his land had killed all hopes of continuing with farming. Bellary has a rich agricultural tradition, which got sidelined when mining began in full swing. Rain is the major source of water here, and crops that are less water-intensive, such as maize, jowar and a variety of vegetables, are grown in the area. Parts of the region with richer sources of water grow paddy. “Mining has changed the nature of agriculture in this area and it should not be restarted,” Eeranna said. The change that Eeranna refers to has happened at various levels. The first is the problem of dust. Proper roads are a rarity in the BHS region; even those connecting major towns such as Toranagallu and Sandur are potholed mud tracks. According to the Lokayukta’s first report, submitted in December 2008, more than 5,000 trucks transported iron ore every day from the pitheads in the region. All this meant that a shimmery red dust hung in the air all the time and the surface water was a muddy red. Farming was practically impossible on landholdings close to the paths on which trucks plied. During Frontline’s visit to the only active mine in the area after the Supreme Court’s ban – the National Mineral Development Corporation’s (NMDC) mine at Swami Malai in the Hospet sector – there were 300 trucks waiting to be loaded. The court has allowed the NMDC to operate its mine in the region. A year ago, there were nearly 120 active mining leases in the BHS belt, with each lease varying from a few acres to several thousand acres.

The second factor that affected farming in the areas was surface mining. There have been reports in the past about farmers digging their land manually to collect the easily available ore. Baskets of such iron ore were then sold to passing trucks. This was expected to pay more than core agricultural activity. None of the farmers that Frontline spoke to admitted to this practice although iron ore lay heaped near their agricultural plots. Amalan Aditya Biswas, the Deputy Commissioner of Bellary, told Frontline that the practice was very much prevalent. An agricultural scientist from a reputed university in Karnataka, who has been doing an independent survey of the region, explained how surface mining destroyed the topsoil, which would take several hundreds of years to regenerate naturally. The third factor that affected agriculture was the number of people working in mines rather than on agricultural fields. According to information provided by the district administration, only about 7,000 people were employed directly in the mines. Reliable data on casual and contractual employment are not available. By different estimates, several thousand local and migrant labourers worked in the mines on daily wages. Many other local villagers were employed in the transportation of iron ore, which was the next best source of employment. The migrant labourers, except those working in sponge iron units, have left the area since the ban was imposed. Another factor was the social change following the sudden inflow of money and migrants. Crime increased as did the number of accidents. With the rise in disposable income, cases of gambling and prostitution were on the rise. According to Biswas, the number of gun licences issued went up in the wake of the China boom. Thayappa, who was drying his jowar crop on the road between Sandur and Ramgarh, said: “These people [local people who were working in the mines or as transporters] had no value for money. A Rs.1,000-note was like a Rs.100-note for them.”

The ban on mining has affected transporters the worst. Many local people, especially young men, bought trucks to cash in on the opportunity offered by the mining of massive quantities of ore. With no work now, the loans on the trucks remain unpaid and the outstanding amount keeps growing. Kumar Nayak is a resident of Sushilanagar village, which has a population of 1,500, mainly from the Lambani caste (categorised as a Scheduled Caste in Karnataka). He has to repay Rs.35,000 a month for the five trucks he owns. But the trucks are mostly idle. His is not an isolated story. “Truck drivers who owned a vehicle easily made Rs.30,000 a month, but they are jobless now,” said Veeranna Arahunashi, a resident of Papinayakanahalli village on the Torangal-Hospet road. This village of 6,500 people has 175 trucks lying idle. People who have farmlands have returned to them, but the landless have nowhere to turn to. Evidently, people like Nayak, who were dependent on transporting ore for a living, want ‘legal’ mining, in the way it existed before the China boom, to recommence immediately. Many people in the transport business, including drivers of smaller transport vehicles, echo this sentiment. Panchakshara C.M., the driver of a 12-seater vehicle used for local transport, said his business had fallen by more than half from last year. Such stories are common across Sandur, Bellary and Hospet. Dharmendra Mishra, a migrant from Bihar who works as a waiter in the G.N.N Residency hotel in Sandur, said that business was much better before the ban came. Hotels in the area have seen business fall by over 70 per cent in the past year.

There is a strong sentiment among the people in the backward district that mining should recommence. They want it to be practised more responsibly and the benefits to be shared more equitably. Environmental concerns are secondary to them against the more fundamental monetary interests. However, there are a few like Eeranna, who describes himself as an environmentalist, opposing any such move. This is also the broader philosophy of the Samaj Parivartana Samiti (SPS). The SPS, which had been waging a quiet legal battle against illegal mining, emerged into the limelight only towards the end of 2010. S.R. Hiremath, its founder, works with a small group of committed people. Hiremath and people such as Vishnu Kamath of the National Committee for the Protection of Natural Resources (NCPNR) have a broad agenda vis-a-vis the vexed question of mining. “Nature cannot be managed well unless people closest to it are involved in its management and a healthy relationship is established between nature, culture and society,” said Hiremath. With this philosophy guiding them, the SPS and the NCPNR have written a letter to the ICFRE team that while accepting the July 28 report of the Central Empowered Committee, which says rampant illegal mining was causing considerable environmental damage in the region, the EIA report should recommend that agriculture be brought back to earlier levels in addition to recommending the closure of all non-active mines. While the SPS understands the importance of the EIA, it shares the scepticism of several environmentalists about the objectivity of the EIAs of the past. The SPS has also facilitated the formation of an alternative team consisting of agricultural scientists and ecologists to put forward their views as well. …



[Back to Top]

A Bill that facilitates displacement? – By R. Uma Maheshwari (Sep 12, 2011, The Hindu)

The foreword – to the Draft National Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill 2011 – that says “urbanisation is inevitable” (I.p.1) signifies danger. The Bill, if enacted in its present form, is likely to worsen, and not stop, displacement of tribal, Dalit and other backward communities. The Bill states: “The issue of who acquires land is less important than the process of land acquisition, compensation for land acquired and R&R process, package and conditions … The objective is to make the process of land acquisition easy, transparent, and fair for both sides in each instance …”(p.1, emphasis added). But who acquires land is intrinsically connected to why it is acquired in the first place. Land alienation, ownership and contradictions arising from it concern world political economy and external agencies that have been dictating conditions to the Indian government at the Centre and State level on policy matters in land reforms. Some of these terms and conditions reflect in the LARR Bill 2011 if one reads between the lines. A Policy Document of the World Bank, for instance (“India: Land Policies for Growth and Poverty Reduction,” Report No. 38298-IN, July 9, 2007, Agriculture and Rural Development Sector Unit, India Country Management Unit, South Asia Region) made a few recommendations for policy reform, which included, “eliminate restrictions on land markets.” Under this – “It will be desirable to (i) make leasing legal where it is currently prohibited…(ii) allow transferability of land by land reform beneficiaries at least through lease and explore options for making the gains from such reform permanent; (iii) drop restrictions on sale of land to non-agriculturists and subdivision which have little economic justification; and (iv) review legislation on compulsory land acquisition and, subject to the prevention of undesirable externalities, allow farmers or their representatives to negotiate with and if desired transfer land directly to investors rather than having to go through government and often receive only very limited compensation.”

It is a matter of serious concern that this Bill looks at R&R and land acquisition as “two sides of the same coin” and this is partly a result of the pressure built over the years by movements against big dams. This Bill facilitates acquiring land, including commons, presently in the hands of small and marginal farmers from tribal, SC and backward communities under the pretext of an unstated ‘public purpose’ for “infrastructure development” which may well accompany future FDI in food and agriculture, and several related developments linking the global market to India. In urban areas it is very clear that it is connected to real estate development in return for crumbs such as ‘housing for the urban poor’ schemes. The government is fast-tracking into a future which facilitates transfer of land into the hands of the urban elite. Even if there is a caveat placed on R&R in case of acquisition up to 100 acres, there is no mechanism to stop the rich from taking an easy way out, opting for say 90 acres. Does that not call for R&R? While one good point in the Bill is that “under no circumstances” multicropped, irrigated land (sic) be acquired, what if a multicropped land or two came within the 100 acres identified for the larger acquisition? The definition of “multi-crop” is unclear. Is it a number of crops grown in a single season or in alternate seasons by rotation?

As for the SIA (Social Impact Assessment), there is mention of “Two non-official social scientists, two experts in the area relating to the project.” Women, senior citizens and children are not part of this exercise. The affected people are not to select this group. What is the guarantee that the group will not favour those who wish to acquire land? Most ‘experts’ come from sections not directly displaced/dispossessed. We are unwilling to have a forum with the poor as their own representatives on decisions affecting them. The understanding of “minimum” displacement, “minimum disturbance to infrastructure, ecology and minimum adverse impact on individuals affected” is highly subjective and left open-ended without defining the “minimum” displacement (in forests, for instance; or damage to rivers, for instance – how much is ‘minimum”?) As for the public hearing on the notification issued for acquisition, why not have a pre-notification, prior, on “intent” to acquire land, instead, where a gram sabha, or committees in urban slums, for instance, can take a collective decision for or against acquisition?

What are the implications of this Bill for the Polavaram dam? It has a lot that will actually make the dam (if the Bill becomes an Act) illegal and invalid on most points mentioned therein on land acquisition. But a deeper reading of the Bill makes it clear that much of it will actually not help stall the dam works in any major way. The onus will be on people to enter into litigation to reclaim their land from the government if the Bill is passed. The provision of “One acre of land to each family in the command area if land is acquired for irrigation project” seems foolhardy if it plans to cover entire populations displaced by irrigation projects (in Polavaram alone, the figure is nearly three lakh people). Where is this kind of land available in the proposed command area? The first point on which the Polavaram-dislocated (who lost land, not necessarily physically displaced) can be one up on the government is within the clause “Safeguards against indiscriminate acquisition.” This says – “Land to be returned to original owner if not used in 5 years for the purpose for which it is acquired.” It was in 2005 that most of the land acquisition for the Polavaram dam started and the only ‘work’ done is the digging of canals. So, will the government of Andhra Pradesh face legal action if this Bill becomes an Act? So far as tribal communities are concerned, a point in their favour under “Minimum R&R Entitlements Special Provisions for ST’s” makes space for “Preference in relocation and resettlement in area in same compact block.” In the case of the Polavaram dam, no care was taken to do so, in any of the three R&R colonies (of which only two are under construction). And here we are talking of 300 villages to be submerged, and where are those 300 tribal villages to be resettled in ‘compact’ colonies? Where is the land for that space? If tribal land is to be acquired for displaced tribal communities, where will the R&R displaced tribal people be rehabilitated?

In the case of Polavaram, the non-tribals illegally owning land in tribal areas were compensated with high amounts (Rs.1,50,000 an acre; minimum Rs.80,000 per acre). There is no provision in the Bill for any system to check such instances. In fact the Bill does not seem to have taken into consideration all these past injustices nor does it have any clause to correct those injustices. How is land perceived? What are rivers perceived as? For a fisherman the river is his notional ‘land,’ in livelihood and cultural terms. Faced with numerous massive irrigation (multi-purpose) projects on the anvil, ‘acquisition of river’ (and forests) is not considered a case for R&R. Though one does not even remotely suggest a “River acquisition Bill.” Let’s hope that such a day will not come. How is economic value generated for the communities? How does the Bill compute the ‘economic worth’ of tribal, Dalit or BC communities, women’s work, to be dispossessed of a permanent asset – land/river? “Rs.3000 pm for 12 months; Rs. 2000 pm per family for 20 years.” The Bill is making cosmetic changes to the 1894 notion of an ’eminent domain’ treating citizens as beneficiaries of private, or state charity.



[Back to Top]

The Poverty Question – Editorial (Oct 5, 2011, Times of India)

The Rs 32 per capita urban poverty line is a measure only of extreme poverty, not of acceptable consumption-linked daily expenditure. Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and rural development minister Jairam Ramesh have clarified this. They’ve also stated that prevailing BPL figures won’t determine selection of the beneficiaries of social schemes. This hopefully will put an end to the high-decibel protests of opposition parties and activists. Let’s keep in mind that the definition in question doesn’t anyway guide welfare delivery, be it subsidy benefits or job guarantee. In that sense, the ongoing fracas over the poverty issue is contrived.

Some advocate universalisation of schemes to make the question of poverty numbers redundant. But, as Ramesh suggests, that’ll amount to a fiscal nightmare. Criteria for choosing eligibility and entitlements of rural households are to emerge from a socio-economic and caste economic census being conducted. That’s doubtless a long haul. The government will also seek consensus on the methodology for routing benefits to the poor that an expert committee must ensure is in tune with the upcoming food security scheme’s provisions. This too will be a complex, time-consuming process. Clearly, we’re nowhere near preparing ground for the food entitlement plan that’ll set the poverty benchmark for all schemes.

There’s another reason why we’re not ready. Though functioning relatively well in some southern states, the PDS is ramshackle elsewhere. If a study has said that around 67% of PDS wheat doesn’t reach BPL households, it’s estimated that around two-thirds of all subsidised foodgrain get diverted for open market sale. Such a system can’t surely be the vehicle for a mammoth welfare project. Reassuringly, some states have started pilot projects with food coupons and biometric smart cards that deter identity theft. Cash transfers are also being looked at seriously. Direct subsidy transfer through any of these UID-linked alternatives will help free the poor from bureaucratic bungling and worse.

Social schemes can’t work in a bubble. Their success or otherwise depends on proper identification of their target groups and structural reform to plug costly leakages. The food security plan’s huge financial implications also link it to efficient resource mobilisation and fiscal consolidation. Raising farm output to match burgeoning and diversified food needs is as critical – or we’ll absurdly have to uphold food entitlement in part via imports. A government whose borrowings routinely overshoot budget calculations must surely kickstart stalled reforms. Higher growth means more revenue to plough into social spending. Subsidy, however, is ultimately no substitute for enabling the needy via delivery of education, health and infrastructure. As they say, if giving someone a fish is good, teaching him how to fish is better.



[Back to Top]

Fall of Hyderabad: 17th September a black day in human history – By Kaneez Fathima (Sep 17, 2011, Twocircles.net)

17th September is a black day in the Human history. In the year 1948, this was the day when the Indian Union attacked and occupied the Hyderabad State through Military action which is called as ‘Police Action’ and originally it was named as “Operation Polo”. Lakhs of Muslims were killed in this military attack, women were dishonored. The cities, towns and villages were completely destroyed. Lakhs of Muslims were made homeless. Masjids and Dargahs were dismantled. Until 17th September 1948, Hyderabad was an independent country popularly named as princely state with Nizam VII, Mir Osman Ali Khan as its ruler. Hyderabad was never under the British rule. Hyderabad was as large as the present country France. It had its own currency, railways, postal department, Judiciary, military etc. In fact, there were 544 princely states then spread all over the area which is presently known as India. Hyderabad was one among them. All these princely states were occupied and merged by the Indian Union after it got independence from the Britishers. But as Hyderabad was one of the largest princely states, the Indian government that was formed after the Britishers left, it wanted Hyderabad to merge into Indian union, because Hyderabad State was in between the North and South regions, therefore, if Indian Union wanted to rule over the Southern region then it was not possible so they wanted to occupy the Hyderabad state, so that they can include the whole North and South regions and rule over it. However, the VII Nizam did not agree to the proposal of Indian government and wanted some time to think about it as the Britishers had given him three choices, one is to merge into Indian Union, two is to remain independent and the third is to merge into newly formed Pakistan.

Let us examine ‘Liberation’ in what sense and from whom? In the year 1948, on the pretext of suppressing communist movement that was spread only in four districts of Hyderabad State, the Indian union attacked the Hyderabad state to overthrow the Nizam rule which was considered as Muslim rule. Though the police action was to occupy Hyderabad state but actually in the name of police action, Muslims were killed in large numbers. It was estimated officially by the Sundarlal Committee appointed by the government of India that One Lakh Muslims were killed by the Indian army and unofficial estimation is more than two lakh Muslims were killed. The Arya Samaj and other Hindu fundamentalist organizations along with Indian military were involved in the killing of Muslims. 17th September is not the liberation day but day of genocide, the implications of which can be felt even today. The Nizam of Hyderabad State never even thought of this type of massacre, because he always considered Hindus and Muslims as his two eyes. The way the people of Hyderabad were targeted due to the Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan’s innocence and lack of future understanding, he underwent shock due to that. All his dreams went scattered, his tongue went soar, because this richest man of the world would never have dreamt that his home would be destroyed so brutally in front of his eyes and he was unable to do anything. The Indian Union’s aim was not just to exterminate the Nizam’s government, but also to erase the culture, language, history and literature of Hyderabad. So, the Nizam’s government was eliminated by one attack, but the culture, language, history and literature that has strong roots, could not be erased even after the military action of 17th September. But it has been continuously under attack. The recent uprising Telangana movement is born/emerged from the remaining of culture, heritage and language of Hyderabad, which is called Hyderabadi tahzeeb. Because of this we have given the slogan Hyderabad is Telangana and Telangana is Hyderabad.

It is time now to think as to who is benefiting by giving the slogans of ‘Liberation Day’ and who wants the state government to declare this day officially as liberation day. In the year 1948, as the Congress gave the reasons of suppressing the communist movement and occupied the Hyderabad state to overthrow the Nizam’s rule, in the present times, BJP is using the same strategy and supporting the Telangana movement and propagating that the Muslim rule will come back. One should also think as to why the BJP and TRS have been celebrating this particular day? These two parties are working on same ideological line and majoritarian ideology of these parties will make the people to stand against Muslims. The BJP is making communal statements and instigating common people against Muslims and bringing differences among the communities. So, the SCs, STs and BCs are thinking on the lines of BJP. On the one hand TRS praises Nizam for providing infrastructure and on the other hand it is depicting him as enemy of the people. This dual stand will benefit them both in getting more votes in forthcoming elections. More than this both the parties want to hide the real history of Hyderabad. History is not a monolithic one, it must be read in multiple ways and bring out the facts to construct the understanding. This day has been celebrated by the BJP and Congress as liberation day. TDP celebrated it as a merger day and the TRS and left parties have celebrated it as betrayal day and the Muslim, SC, ST, and Bahujan organizations have named it as Invasion day. So, there is no clear understanding among the political parties as to what they should call the day 17th September as. We can understand with the opinion of various political parties that they are not sincere towards the separate Telangana movement and are playing vote bank politics to increase their political employment.

We Telanganites are still under the suppression of the Seemandhras, so we haven’t got the liberation and freedom yet. Though India has got independence in the year 1947, Hyderabad was already independent. But after the merger, the Andhra occupied the Telangana region, diverted all the natural resources to their region and now they have occupied the Waqf lands and are ruling over us. Therefore, people of Telangana are still under the suppression of the Seemandhras. Therefore, in real sense we haven’t got freedom yet. Unless and until Telangana is formed as a separate state, we cannot say that we are free and liberated. There was no Telangana movement at the time when the Indian Union attacked the Hyderabad State. There was only communist movement that too spread over a small part of the Hyderabad state, say in four districts. Therefore, 17th September cannot be considered as Liberation day as it had no connection with Telangana freedom. It is a black day in human history as lakhs of Muslims were massacred. Telangana people who know about the history of Hyderabad very clearly also know that 17th September is neither a liberation day, nor betrayal day but in fact it is a black day in human history.



[Back to Top]

The Inconvenient Truth Of Soni Sori – By Shoma Chaudhury (Oct 15, 2011, Tehelka)

As I sit to write this, at 12.20 pm on 4 October 2011, an SMS pops up on my phone: “Soni Sori has been arrested by the Delhi Crime Branch.” The inevitable has happened. The mighty Indian State has caught up with a frail tribal woman on the run. Living in a city, it is hard to believe this is an Indian story. Living in a city, it is hard to believe this story is even a true one. It’s always hard to believe in the lives of those outside the orbit of one’s experience. Or even the periphery of one’s imagination. But the story of Soni Sori, 35, and her nephew Linga Kodopi, 25, is one of the most urgent ones of our times. It captures the brutal chaos of India’s “greatest internal security threat” – the Naxal crisis – as no official document can. It captures the chilling way in which two first-generation educated tribals are being punished and systematically crushed for their courage and outspokenness. Crushed by both Maoists and the State so no independent voice remains to tell the complex truths about life in Chhattisgarh. Over the past two weeks, several newspapers have been carrying small snippets about how an Essar contractor called BK Lala was caught red-handed on 9 September in a Dantewada market paying Rs 15 lakh as protection money to a Maoist operative called Linga Kodopi. According to these reports, both Lala and Linga had been arrested from the market, while a third person in the transaction – the “Naxal associate” Soni Sori – had escaped. It would be easy to gloss over this news as an insignificant ripple in a distant war zone if that was all there was to it. But the story of Soni Sori and Linga Kodopi loops back much further – and deeper – than these news reports would suggest. A few days ago, on the run, Soni Sori appeared in the TEHELKA office, desperate but resolute. “You have to help me tell the truth to the world,” she said. “My wellwishers in Delhi are advising me to give myself up to the police and fight this in court but I’m innocent so why should I agree to be arrested? I’m educated and I know my rights. If I have done something wrong I’m happy to go to jail, but before they accuse me, shouldn’t the police show some evidence against me?” Soni’s eyes occasionally glint with tears, but she is no trader in self-pitying sorrows. She has trekked to Delhi in a dangerous and exhausting cross-country run from the Odisha border, disguised as an ill woman. She has left behind three tiny children aged 5, 8 and 12, scattered at relatives’ houses and hostels. Her husband has been jailed for being an alleged Maoist. Her father lies in a hospital bed in Jagdalpur, ironically, shot by the Maoists for being with the police. Her nephew, of course, is in jail now for being an alleged Maoist extortionist. She herself is falsely accused in five daunting cases of Maoist violence. And the government school she used to teach at is beginning to disband as the police knock on its doors and harass her peers for information. (Almost 40 of the 100 children there have gone home in fright after she was declared an absconder).

Soni is a lone woman in a hostile world. Her life is in smithereens. And she is about as defenceless as anyone can get. But, even as the cruel ironies pile up and the police breathe hot on her heels with a “permanent arrest warrant”, she sits dignified in borrowed slippers and simple clothes. Resolute and indignant. She refuses to disappear conveniently like hundreds of other tribals have, to rot in jails or die at police or Maoist hands. She wants her story told. It took almost three-and-a-half years and a worldwide campaign (kicked off by TEHELKA) for Binayak Sen’s story to be heard and for him to get bail. It’s taken almost two-and-a-half years for Kopa Kunjam, another fearless tribal worker, falsely accused of murder, to get bail. And it’s been more than two years since activist Himanshu Kumar’s ashram was razed to the ground by the police and he was hounded out of Chhattisgarh. In a sense, Soni and Linga were the last men standing in Dantewada district. Will it need as many years now for their story to be heard? Running through the forest on 11 September, at the start of her journey to Delhi, a terrified Soni had spoken to TEHELKA correspondent Tusha Mittal on a breaking phone line and said, “The police are trying to kill me. They fired at me today. I fled. I need to stay alive to keep the truth alive. They don’t want me to reach Delhi. I can’t let them kill me.” Of course, Soni did reach Delhi before she was arrested. This is why she wanted to reach the capital. This is what she wanted told. She believed it would get her justice. And freedom.

On 8 September, one day before contractor Lala and Linga were supposedly arrested in Palnar market exchanging money, Mankar, a constable from Kirandul Police Station had accosted Soni and asked her to convince Linga to “cooperate” with the police in nabbing Lala. They wanted Linga to pose as a Maoist, take some money from Lala, then hand it over to the police. If she convinced Linga to do this, Mankar promised Soni’s name would be dropped from all the police cases that had been concocted against her. Soni refused angrily but, according to her, Mankar still grabbed her phone and made a call to Lala himself impersonating a local Maoist. Unsure whether this was a ploy for the cop to make some money on the side, she held her peace. The next day, on 9 September, at about 4 pm, she says a car full of plainclothes men came to her father’s house in Palnar and forcibly took Linga away. She insisted they reveal their identity, but they refused. Shocked, Soni called Mohan Prakash, deputy commander, CRPF, 51 Battalion, and asked if they were his men. He said they weren’t. Soni and her brother Ramdev then went to the Kirandul Police Station and asked station in-charge Umesh Sahu if the plainclothes men were from the police. He denied it and suggested Linga may have been picked up by Naxals. (It is strange that Sahu apparently lied about this because it is he himself who filed FIR No. 26/2011 against Lala and Linga on 9 September, saying he had acted on a tip-off and arrested them in the market.) Soni’s family spent a worried night wondering who had picked up Linga. The next day, they read in the papers that Linga had been arrested for taking money from Lala and that Soni had been declared an absconder. Aghast, but knowing she would be arrested next, Soni decided to flee. After a gruelling journey, she reached Delhi and sought help from human rights activists. At the TEHELKA office, to prove the veracity of her account, Soni called constable Mankar on the phone. Tearfully, she asked him why he had entrapped her and Linga into this messy affair. She repeatedly challenged him to tell the truth: “It was you who called Lala from my phone, isn’t it?” she asked. “You know the police arrested Linga from our house and not from the market, isn’t it?”; “BK Lala also was arrested from his house and not the market, isn’t it?” she says. “They were not exchanging money. It’s you who framed us, isn’t it?” she says.

In an explosive and shocking admission, constable Mankar not only admits to all of this repeatedly, he also further states that the money was actually seized from Lala’s house and advises her to stay in Delhi for a few months. The police have no real evidence on the case, he assures her. The case would soon fall apart in court and then she could return. Till then, all she had to do was hold her silence and not talk about what had happened. This damning phone conversation caught in a sting recording, which is with TEHELKA, not only corroborates Soni’s account and validates both her and Linga’s innocence in the high-profile Essar pay-off case, it also shoots the lid off the murky and illegal workings of the police in the war zone of Chhattisgarh. But this is not all. The police’s extrajudicial exertions to frame Linga and Soni – and in this instance Essar – is also exposed by another highly damaging and publicly released video testimony by Jairam Khora, sarpanch of Badapadar panchayat in Odisha. According to Khora, he was arrested by the Odisha Police on 14 September and handed over to the Chhattisgarh Police for questioning. The Chhattisgarh Police detained him illegally and tortured him brutally for eight days. “They tied my feet like this,” says Khora in his statement, and crosses his hands, “Then they put a stick between my legs. Two policemen then hung me up and two beat me with a stick. They beat me a lot… then they took me to the Dantewada SP and forcibly took a statement from me…” Khora was kept in illegal detention till 19 September when he was produced before a magistrate and later released on 21 September. In the statement forced by the police, Khora was made to say that he had gone with Lala to meet the Naxal commanders and hand over the money. But according to Khora, no such thing had happened. His only connection with Lala is a plant that the latter owns in his panchayat; and the he had got Lala to perform for his village: 15-20 tubewells, a new school building and the repair of an old one. So why were the police so bent on framing Soni, Linga and the Essar group? To understand this, to understand the real Kafkaesque horror of what Soni and Linga have been going through; to understand why they are being targeted; to understand the horribly snarled nature of the battleground in Chhattisgarh, one has to go back to the beginning.

Unlike the usual stereotype of the dispossessed and voiceless tribal, Soni Sori comes from a politically active and well-to-do tribal family. Her father Madru Ram Sori, a respected and kindly man, has been a sarpanch for 15 years. Her uncle is a former Communist Party of India MLA. Her elder brother is in the Congress. And Linga, her nephew, is a luminously intelligent boy, who studied journalism in Delhi at an institute in Noida, to arm himself with the necessary skills for truth-telling. Soni herself is an irrepressible woman. She was taught and mentored by Himanshu Kumar both at her own school and at his ashram. Currently, she is a governmentemployed school teacher at an ashram for tribal children in Jabeli. Sitting in the TEHELKA office a few days ago, she said proudly, “I want to go back and help my people. I want to use my education to empower them and help them stand on their feet. If we don’t learn to speak for ourselves, we tribal people will be wiped out.” “Linga is also like that,” she continued. “He has this flame inside him. He doesn’t want to be either with the police or the Naxals, he just wants to fight for his own people.” Witnessing such guileless zeal can evoke a pang. As Binayak Sen, Himanshu Kumar, Kopa Kunjam and dozens of other lesser-known activists found out, being outspoken or idealistic can be dangerous business in a theatre of war. And the desire for principled neutrality in such a space is not only a wishful impossibility, it is at the tragic heart of the assaults on Linga and Soni. And others. Two senior CRPF officers from Dantewada, both of whom wish to remain unnamed, confirm this. “You have to take sides here,” they said. “You have to be either with the police and the paramilitary forces or with the Naxals. You cannot try to be in the middle.” Dantewada district, especially the area in which Linga and Soni live – Palnar, Sameli, Jabeli, Geedam – is a Maoist stronghold. The region is thickly forested and has both Naxal and CRPF camps: a radioactive zone for suspicion, ambushes, killings and counter-killings. As Himanshu says, “To live there has itself become a crime.” If you side with the police, the Maoists will kill you as informers. If you humour the Naxals, you are constantly fair game for the police. Soni and Linga wanted to be neither. They wanted their Constitutional rights: equal citizenship and rule of law. They wanted to reclaim their home from the exploitative jaws of contractors, politicians, police – and even the Maoists. They fought to get minimum wages of tribals raised from Rs 60 to Rs 120; fought for the rights of mine workers; and kicked up a row about senior police officials pocketing huge money from the illegal teak trade, generated in the name of “jungle clearing” to thwart the Maoist movement. …



[Back to Top]