September 2, 2012

Why have you come here to give food to Naxalites?

On 28th June, 17 adivasis, six of them minor from the villages of Rajpenta, Kottaguda and Sarkeguda in Chhattisgarh were killed. 

A three member team, consisting of JP Rao, Kopa Kunjam and Nandini Sundar visited this area on 3rd and 4th July 2012. As per their fact finding report, the people killed were in a meeting to decide their sowing patterns for the coming season. The CRPF, to whom the unarmed minors were clearly visible opened fire. In their report, they claimed that it was retaliatory fire, which has been proven incorrect by every several independent report.

Another fact finding team visited the area on 10th July, including Deba Ranjan who shot the above film. during the course of their stay, local government officials visit the area with clothes and utensils to distribute to the families of the killed. They refuse to accept this and in a blistering, sarcastic rejection, they shout back:  

"You've burned our houses before, have you ever given us anything for that? Bring our 17 people back first and then bring your ration-water, till then we won't take it. Are our people cows and goats, are they cattle, that you think we're on sale. Do we think we're selling our life for food? We can't find food to live? We can't find clothes to wear? Why have you come here to give food to Naxalites? [the people you killed]...they aren't the public, they're naxalites. There is no public here in Kotaguda. We are all Naxalis here. What were you thinking coming to give food to Naxalis? Those 17 people were actual, dangerous Naxalites. Ofcourse they weren't the public! They weren't kids! The twelve year old girl was killed first because she was giving a speech. She was the real Naxalite. Does anyone give Naxalites ration-pani? Till our people aren't back we don't want any ration-pani, we want none of your help."


From Venkatesh Nayak,
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

..the State Government announced a judicial probe into the incidents of that fateful night there is a considerable amount of confusion about even basic facts of the case. For example, while a national daily and a national weekly magazine published brief bios of the deceased, there is a mismatch of names and ages..

Seeking information from the CRPF under the RTI Act:
In the age of the Right to Information Act (RTI Act), we the people of India are entitled to know the full facts of the incidents that occurred on the night of 28-29 June, 2012. So on 06 July I filed an information request  (first four attachments) with the Public Information Officer, CRPF seeking the following information about the fateful events of that night:

"I would like to obtain the following information relating to the recent operations conducted by the CRPF as described in its press release dated 29/06/2012 (Annexure 1) under the RTI Act:
(i)     The complete text of the intelligence inputs received by the CRPF from any source about the situation/developments in Silger and Chintalnar, Chhattisgarh on the basis of which the operations, cited in the aforementioned press release, were launched;
(ii)   A list of all reports along with annexures, if any, submitted by the CRPF to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs clearly indicating the subject-matter of the report and the date of despatch after the said operations in Silger and Chintalnar, Chhattisgarh, till date;
(iii)  A clear photocopy of all reports along with annexures, if any, referred to at para #(ii) above;
(iv)  A clear photocopy of the list of reports/documents/papers and any information in material form furnished by the CRPF to the State Government of Chhattisgarh in relation to the said operations in Silger and Chintalnar ; and
(v)    A clear photocopy of the order/warrant issued or decision taken by CRPF to launch an internal inquiry into the said operations in Silger and Chintalnar, Chhattisgarh along with related file notings;
(vi)  A clear photocopy of all documents containing details of the procedure to be adopted for the purpose of conducting an inquiry into the actions of CRPF personnel involved in operations of the kind undertaken at Silger and Chintalnar, Chhattisgarh."

As the CRPF is a security organisation exempt under Section 24(1) of the RTI Act it has a duty to provide only such information that relates to allegations of human rights violations or allegations of corruption. So I attached two news reports of prominent political parties such as the Indian National Congress, the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) alleging that the incident was one of a fake encounter and that the deceased were innocent adivasis (members of ethnic communities). 

Denied Information by the CRPF:
The CRPF has denied access to information on the following grounds:
"2. After careful consideration of your application on the subject, it is intimated that as per Section 24(1) of the Right to Information Act, 2005, Central Police Forces as listed in the Second Schedule of the Act have been given qualified exemption from the Act in so far as the allegations of other than those connected with Human Rights Violations and Corruption are concerned. From the facts of the case mentioned in your application cited above, there appears to be no violations of Human Rights as well as facts of the case do not attract ingredients to constitute the allegations of corruption. Moreover, information sought are general in nature, Hence this department is not liable to provide the information sought by you.

3. Further it is also intimated that the information/documents sought by the you [sic] relates to security/operational instructions which cannot be divulged to civilians in the normal course under Section 8(1)(a) of RTI Act."

Why is this reply from the CRPF problematic?
This reply of the CRPF's PIO is hugely problematic for the following reasons:

a) Under Section 24 of the RTI Act an applicant does not have to prove a case of human rights violation against the CRPF or any other organisation listed under the Second Schedule of the RTI Act. The existence of mere 'allegations' of human rights violations is adequate for the purpose of disclosing information. The 19 individuals who died in the unfortunate incident were not sentenced to death by any court of law. The CRPF has always maintained that they fired in self-defence. This claim remains to be tested during the judicial probe. So until such time as the truth is out this will have to be treated as a case of extra-judicial killing. To the best of my knowledge any extra judicial killing is a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to life to every person. The State or its agencies may take away a person's life only through procedure established by law. Whether the deaths in Silger-Chintalnar occurred in accordance with procedure established by law remains to be determined. So the allegation of violation of the fundamental human right to life will stick to this incident for now. Sadly the CRPF does not seem to have considered this aspect while making a decision on my RTI application.

b) In addition to claiming exempt status under Section 24 read with the Second Schedule of the RTI Act, the PIO has claimed the applicability of Section 8(1)(a) to the information I have sought. Section 8(1)(a) exempts disclosure of information relating to the security interests of the State. So not satisfied with being outside of the RTI Act for almost all purposes the CRPF wants double protection through the claim of Section 8(1)(a). Section 24 was introduced to specifically provide near complete insulation to such organisations from the RTI Act. But it is mandatory for such bodies to provide information about allegations of human rights violation. How can allegations of human rights violations be made if an applicant is unaware of the procedures and protocols to be followed by the CRPF in the kinds of circumstances they came up against in Silger-Chintalnar? So access to information about the operational procedures is crucial to determine whether procedure established by law was followed at all. The PIO does not seem to have paid much attention to this issue at all before denying my request.

c) Under Section 24 there is a bar on the CRPF from disclosing information supplied by it to the Government. However the bar is only on disclosing information supplied to the Government which established the CRPF, namely the Central Government. There is no bar on disclosing the information supplied to a State Government. Ignoring this fact the PIO has denied access to information supplied to the State Government about the Silger-Chintalnar incident. This is also most unfortunate.

d) The PIO's statement that I have sought information is general in nature is also difficult to accept. I have asked for information relating to intelligence inputs received, reports made by the CRPF to the State and the Central Government- all relating to the Silger-Chintalnar incident. There is nothing general about it. Nevertheless the PIO has in his wisdom treated this as a general information request.

So what needs to be done next?
Ideally, this denial of information would have led to the filing of a complaint before the Central Information Commission. However the Hon'ble Supreme Court declared in December 2011 that an Information Commission cannot order disclosure of information under the complaints procedure provided in Section 18 of the RTI Act. So the only route left is to file a first appeal wait for another decision of denial from the CRPF (unless they have a change of heart or strategy) and then move the Central Information Commission. Meanwhile I am waiting for the CRPF's reply to another RTI application I submitted seeking information relating to the same incident.

I request all readers to file RTI applications with the CRPF, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the State Government of Chhattsigarh seeking information about all aspects of the Silger-Chintalnar incident and its aftermath. This is one of the ways of building pressure on the State and its agencies to come clean on this unfortunate incident.


Invites you to join the DHARNA
JantarMantar, 11 AM onwards
Date:  7th September, 2012

CRDO, an association of civil rights and democratic rights organizations is on Dharna on 7th September2012 in Delhi to protest against escalated forms of violence and repression that various sections of people within the country are being subjected to. The course of democracy in India is increasingly witnessing a violent assault not just on people’s rights but the very existence of people who dare to stand and act in negation of the status quo is being jeopardized. The current year has been replete with instances of mass violation of civil and democratic rights of people. While the brutal and prejudiced side of the state is obvious in its "arrest or kill" policy towards those resisting corporate take-over of their land, forest and water in the name of counter Maoist offensives such as killing of 17 adivasis in Bijapur district of Chattisgarh. Equally evident is the state-corporate partnership exploiting peoples’ resources in the name of industrial development. The conscious attempt of the state to target vulnerable sections of society, to ‘construct’ them as criminals is visible in numerous cases of Muslim youths being falsely implicated in terrorist cases by Anti-Terrorist Squads of different state governments. There have been increasing instances of sexual assault on women by paramilitary forces. Incidents of violence against and social boycott of Dalits as a repercussion of their assertion of legitimate rights are escalating. Physical attacks on social activists for raising genuine concerns against the fatal consequences of state policies that pass under the rhetoric of development, together with a massive and shameful deployment of draconian laws such as sedition and UAPA are being used against civil and democratic rights activists to silence their critical voices.  Out of 640 district of India, 101 are reeling under Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) and in another 37 districts we find similar conditions. This war against our own people has thrown up social and ethnic divides whose tragic consequences can be seen in the current bloodletting in Assam and the exodus of people from North East out of Bangalore, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad etc. We are also alarmed at the indifference shown towards uncovering of mass graves in Kashmir which may hold the key to solve the mystery of 8-10,000 victims of enforced disappearance.

Raising concerted voices against the gross violations at the hands of state and societal power structure, we demand:
·         Stop military offensive against Adivasis in the name of waging war against the Maoists.
·         No to corporate loot. Yes to ‘public resources for public’.
·         Repeal draconian laws like AFSPA, UAPA, IPC sections on sedition, CSPSA, and others.
·         Stop attack on Muslims in the name of terrorism.
·         Condemn attacks on rights activists.
·         Constitute an independent commission to investigate mass graves/unidentified graves.
·         Rectify the Convention Against Enforced Disappearances, and Convention Against Torture.
      ·         Abolish Death Penalty.

Member Organizations: Association for Democratic Rights (AFDR, Punjab), Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC), Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR, West Bengal), Assansol Civil Rights Association (West Bengal), BandiMukti Committee (West Bengal), Campaign for Peace & Democracy (CPDM) Manipur, Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights (CPDR, Mumbai), Coordination for Human Rights (COHR, Manipur), Human Rights Forum (HRF, Andhra), LokshahiHakSangathana (LHS, Maharashtra), ManabAdhikarSangramSamiti (MASS, Assam), Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights (OPDR, Andhra), Peoples Committee for Human Rights (PCHR), Jammu and Kashmir), Peoples Democratic Forum (PDF, Karnataka), Peoples Union for Civil Liberties  (PUCL) Chhattisgarh, PUCL Jharkhand, PUCL Nagpur, PUCL Rajasthan, PUCL Tamilnadu, People’s Union For Democratic Rights (PUDR) Delhi, Peoples Union for Civil Rights (PUCR) Haryana.

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