7 Members of Fact-Finding Team in Chhattisgarh Unlawfully Arrested: Activists’ Letter to NHRC

29th December, 2016

To,

The Chairperson,
National Human Rights Commission,
Manav Adhikar Bhavan, Block-C,
GPO Complex, INA, New Delhi.

Sub: Unlawful Arrest of 7 members of a Fact Finding Team of Lawyers, Journalist, Human Rights Activists, Students of Telangana on 25th Dec, 2016 and Continuing Repression of Adivasis, Activists, Lawyers, Human rights workers in Chhattisgarh.

Hon’ble Sir,

This Hon’ble Commission and the entire country is well-aware of the serious constitutional, legal and human rights violations that have sadly become a part of the everyday reality of the adivasis and human rights activists in the villages and forests of South Chhattisgarh. In the name of ‘combing’ and combating ‘Maosim’, the State, through its military, para-military, security and police forces has unleashed an unprecedented spree of threats, violence, false cases, arbitrary arrests, detentions, dubious encounters, rapes, sexual assault etc. on the impoverished adivasis and anyone who stands up for their rights. A very large number of fact finding reports and the National ST Commission Report have brought forth these realities very vividly. A testimony to this well-documented state of affairs is the recent Order of this Hon’ble Commission dt. 17/12/2006 summoning the Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh and Mr. SRP Kalluri, IGP, Bastar Range, who is widely believed to be responsible for a lot of extra-constitutional actions and has also been indicted by the CBI in the Tadmetla incident.

In fact, in the said Order, this Commission categorically stated that the series of repressive measures including the most recent incidents of un-substantiated FIR against Prof. Nandini Sundar, burning of effigies of activists and journalists was clearly police vendetta against the lawyers, journalists and human rights defenders who have been investigating and reporting on the numerous human rights violations. The said Order is a matter of record and needs no reiteration. [Annex-I] However, citing ‘health reasons’, barely a few days before he was to appear before this Commission, the said IGP stayed away from the hearing and is now ‘back to work’, with what seems yet another attempt to officially tarnish democratic processes and harass human right activists.

It is in the above context that we would like to draw your immediate attention to the recent arbitrary arrests of a fact-finding team of 7 members from Telangana Democratic Front (TDF) comprising High Court lawyers, human rights activists, students and a journalist by the Telangana and Chhattisgarh Police, violating due process of law.

In its press release dt. 26/12/2016, the district police of Sukma, Chhattisgarh has gone so far as to brand all these 7 persons as ‘naxalites’, without even caring to refer to any evidence, to level such an allegation. [Annexure-II].

The seven members of the team who have been arrested are:

1. Balla Ravindranath, Advocate, High Court, AP and Telangana and General Secretary of the Committee for Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP),

2.Chikkudu Prabhaker, Advocate, High Court, AP and Telangana and Convenor, Telanagna Democratic Forum.

3. Durga Prasad, Independent Journalist, Hyderabad

4.Duddu Prabhakar, President, AP Kula Nirmulana Porata Samiti (Committee for Caste Annihilation)

5. Rajendra Prasad, Telangana Vidhyarthi Vedika (Telangana Students Forum)

6. Nazeer, Telangana Vidhyarthi Vedika (Telangana Students Forum)

7. Ramanala Laxmaiyya, Secretary, Adivasi Tudem Dubba, Khammam.

We would like this Hon’ble Commission to kindly note that, reportedly, all the 7 members were picked up in the day on 25th December, 2016 at Dummagudam village, Bhadrachalam District, Telangana, when they were planning to visit Chhattisgarh to enquire into complaints of human rights violations suffered by adivasis villagers at the hands of security forces. Later in the evening, the Telangana police handed them over to the Chhattisgarh police, where reportedly they have been charged of various offences including possessing ‘banned’ literature and banned currency notes, providing ‘assistance’ to Naxals, ‘instigating’ adivasis against the state/police etc. An FIR was registered under the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act (CSPA), 2005 by the Sukma police.

On 26/12/2016, all the 7 accused persons were produced before the remanding Court in Sukma and remanded to judicial custody under sections 8(1), (2) and (3) of the CSPA. It has come to our notice that while the arrest was actually made by the Telangana police within the territory of Telangana, the Chhattisgarh police misinformed the magistrate that the 7 persons were arrested in Chhattisgarh and have stated so in their official press release referred to above. The said act of misleading the Court, is an offence in itself and a blatant abuse of law since all the 7 persons who were arrested by the Telangana police within the territory of Telangana had to be produced before an appropriate Telanagana Court having jurisdiction and not before the Chhattisgarh Court. This apart, there appears to be no prima facie reason for the arrest itself, even within Telanagana.

This entire episode is undeniably yet another act of state vendetta and a glaring example of gross abuse of public office, criminal defamation and violation of the civil liberties and human rights of these independent investigators. The arrest, we submit, is totally unlawful, unwarranted and violative of the numerous orders issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the past and ‘arrest’ regulations by this Commission too. The members of the fact-finding team are respectable, law-abiding citizens including lawyers of the High Court, journalists and human rights activists. There was no need for the arbitrary arrest or even denial of bail the ‘judicial custody’, since there is no reason to believe that they would evade judicial process or subvert the trial /prosecution.

As has been stated by various civil rights groups, this is clearly a case of both Telangana and Chhattisgarh police overstepping their mandate and “violating the law and the fundamental rights to free movement, freedom of speech and expression and the fundamental duty to protect the fundamental rights of adivasis and other local people in Bastar area who are victims of a severely repressive state police”. It is infact the duty of law enforcement agencies to ensure the security of human rights defenders who are assisting the State in ensuring rule of law. But what we are witnessing in these parts of Bastar is a complete breakdown of rule of law and sustained persecution of anyone and everyone who questions human rights violations.

We would, at this point, like this Hon’ble Commission to note there is a clear history of impunity enjoyed by the police in this region and the overt and covert support that the state apparatus gives, at the highest levels, has led to the situation we are in today, where police think they are ‘above the law’ and ‘accountable to none’. While the general situation inside Bastar is now widely known, there are a very large number of specific instances of extra-judicial killings, disappearances, police violence, sexual assault cases etc. that have still not come to the lime light and even FIRs are not being registered. It is these specific instances that the State is keen to suppress under the unacceptable alibi that it would “weaken the morale of the forces”! The alleged torture and encounter of a minor, Somaru Pottam from Metapal village in mid-December by the security forces, in which the Bilaspur High Court has ordered a repeat autopsy two days back is only one of many such likely incidents.

There is also a continuous threat climate that is being created i.e. no academics, lawyers, journalists, activists or the adivasis should dare question anything that the police do in the name of fighting the Maoists. Very recently rights advocates, activists associated with PUCL and JAGLAG were intimidated for calling a meeting of the adivasis in Matenar village of Dantewada and hearing their grievances (despite due police permissions in advance). Yesterday, Adv. Shanili Gera and other legal activists were harassed by the SP Bastar, Mr. RN Dash at Jagdalpur, despite the fact that were there as per Orders of the High Court and arrangement of the Police Commissioner, Bastar, for exhumation of the body of Somaru Pottam, alleged to be encountered. Detailed complaints in this regard have already been sent to the Commission. All these instances of human rights defenders is totally unconstitutional and require immediate attention.

In the light of the above, we urge this Hon’ble Commission to immediately take cognizance of this matter too, as it is integrally connected to various other human rights violations in Chhattisgarh which this Commission has been looking into and direct the Govts. of Telangana and Chhattisgarh to:

1. Drop all charges against all the seven members of the Fact Finding Team of TDF and ensure their right to freely move in the areas of Bastar for conducting a fact-finding.

2. Initiate criminal prosecution against the concerned police officers for abuse of due process law, reportedly misleading the Sukma Court and arbitrarily arresting the fact-finding team members.

We also urge this Hon’ble Commission to immediately:

1.Summon Mr. SRP Kalluri, IGP, Bastar Division and Mr. RN Dash, SP, Bastar before the Commission in person to offer a detailed explanation of all charges of human rights violations against them and thereupon initiate appropriate action, as per law.

2. Send a high-level team comprising some members of this Commission and some independent activists, lawyers, academics and journalists to visit various areas in the Bastar region and obtain first hand information of the serious issues of gross human rights abuses, to enable quick and appropriate action as per law.

3. Direct filing of FIRs in all cases of cognizable offences and human rights violations as directed by a 5-judge Constitution Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, headed by the CJI in Lalita Kumari vs. Govt. of U.P. & Ors [(2014) 2 SCC 1] (wherein it was held that registration of FIR is mandatory u/Sec 154 of IPC if information discloses commission of a cognizable offence).

We look forward to immediate action by this Hon’ble Commission in this regard in the interests of rule of law, justice and fairness…

Thanking You,
Yours sincerely,

Medha Patkar, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM)
Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh – Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) and National Campaign for People’s Right to Information and NAPM
Prafulla Samantara, – Lok Shakti Abhiyan & NAPM, Odisha;
Lingraj Azad – Samajwadi Jan Parishad – Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, NAPM, Odisha;
Binayak Sen and Kavita Srivastava, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL)
Sandeep Pandey, Socialist Party and NAPM, Uttar Pradesh
Sudhir Vombatkere, Senior Activist, NAPM, Karnataka
Gabriele Dietrich, Penn Urimay Iyakkam, Madurai and NAPM, TN;
Geetha Ramakrishnan, Unorganised Sector Workers Federation, NAPM, TN;
Arul Doss, NAPM Tamil Nadu
Arundhati Dhuru, Nandlal Master, Manesh Gupta – NAPM, UP;
Richa Singh, Sangatin Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan, NAPM-UP
Vilayodi Venugopal, CR Neelakandan and Prof. Kusumam NAPM, Kerala
Vimal Bhai – Matu Jan Sangathan, NAPM-Uttarakhand & Jabar Singh, NAPM, Uttarakhand;
Sister Celia – Domestic Workers Union & NAPM, Karnataka;
Rukmini V P, Garment Labour Union, NAPM, Karnataka;
Anand Mazgaonkar, Krishnakant – Paryavaran Suraksh Samiti, NAPM Gujarat;
Kamayani Swami, Ashish Ranjan – Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan & NAPM Bihar;
Mahendra Yadav – Kosi Navnirman Manch, NAPM Bihar;
Sister Dorothy, NAPM Bihar
Dayamani Barla, Aadivasi-Moolnivasi Astivtva Raksha Samiti, NAPM Jharkhand
Dr. Sunilam and Adv. Aradhna Bhargava – Kisan Sangharsh Samiti NAPM Madhya Pradesh
Bhupender Singh Rawat – Jan Sangharsh Vahini, NAPM, Delhi
Rajendra Ravi, Nanu Prasad, Madhuresh Kumar, Amit Kumar, Himnshi Singh, Uma Kapari, Zaved Mazumder, NAPM, Delhi
Faisal Khan, Khudai Khidmatgar, NAPM Haryana
J S Walia, NAPM Haryana;
Kailash Meena, NAPM Rajasthan;
Amitava Mitra & Avik Saha, NAPM West Bengal;
P. Chennaiah, Andhra Prdaesh Vyavasaya Vruttidarulua Union (APVVU) and NAPM-AP
Ramakrishnam Raju, United Forum for RTI and NAPM, AP
Suniti SR, Suhas Kolhekar, Prasad Bagwe – NAPM, Maharashtra;
Gautam Bandopadhyay, NAPM, Chhatisgarh
Anjali Bharadwaj, National Campaign for People’s Right to Information and NAPM
Kaladas Dahariya, RELAA, Chhatisgarh
Bilal Khan, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, Mumbai,
Meera Sanghamitra, NAPM Telangana-AP,
Jeevan Kumar And Syed Bilal, Human Rights Forum, Telangana-AP
Vyjayanthi Mogli and Rachana Mudraboyina, Telangana Hijra Intersex Transgender Samiti Sex, (THITS), Telangana,
P. Shankar, Dalit Bahujana Front, Telanagna
Adv. MA Shakeel, Centre for Study of Constitution and Society, Hyderabad Telangana.
S.Q. Masood, Centre for Peace Studies, Hyderabad Telangana.
Malini Subramaniam, Independent Journalist, Hyderabad.
Vissa Kiran Kumar, Rythu Swarajya Vedika, Telangana-AP
Vimala Morthala, Independent Writer, Activist, Hyderaba
Thomas Pallithanam – People’s Action For Rural Awakening, Ravulapalem, East Godavari, AP
And many other people’s organizations, allies of NAPM and NAPM-Telangana and AP.​

  • K SHESHU BABU

    Situation in central India is fast deteriorating with illegal detentions of even ‘ unarmed’ civilians. The fact finding committee has just been trying to enquire about violation of fundamental rights of adivasis who are being tortured and killed in fake encounters. The SC must direct the concerned to release the committee members and repeal draconian laws. It should scrap all the cases slapped on them