In a first of its kind in Chhattisgarh, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) directed the Chhattisgarh government to pay a compensation of Rs. 1,00,000 each to 13 activists for filing false cases filed against them. It has sought a compliance report for the payment of compensation to them within six weeks.
The activists include well-known sociologist and professor of Delhi University, Nandini Sundar, Jawaharlal Nehru University academic, Archana Prasad, Vineet Tiwari of Joshi Adhikari Institute of Social Studies, Delhi, office-bearer of Chattisgarh unit of Communist Party of India (M), Sanjay Parate, and two local residents of Bastar, Mangla Ram Karma,and Manju Kawasi.
The six activists were on a fact-finding mission to Bastar district to understand the living conditions of tribals.
On November 5, 2016, the Chhattisgarh police lodged an FIR against these activists under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, Arms Act, and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for the alleged murder of Shamnath Baghel of Nama village, Sukma District. The case was filed on the written complaint of Shyamnath Baghel’s widow, Vimla Baghel. However, Vimla Baghel is on record saying she did not name anyone.
On November 15, 2016, the Supreme Court gave the activists protection from arrest. In 2018, since the Chhattisgarh police had not taken any steps to investigate or close the matter, the accused filed a petition in the Supreme Court. Following Supreme Court’s directions, the Chhattisgarh government investigated, and arrived at the finding that there was no substance in the allegations against the activists and dropped the charges in February 2019.
In February 2020, taking note of the Chhattisgarh Police’ admission that there was no case against the activists, the NHRC noted: “In our considered opinion, these persons would have certainly suffered great mental pain and agony as a result of the registration of false FIRs against them by the police, which is a violation of their human rights and for this, the state government should compensate them. Therefore we recommend and direct the Government of Chhattisgarh through its Chief Secretary to pay a sum of Rs One Lakh each as monetary compensations to the six persons whose human rights were gravely violated by the Chhattisgarh police.”
The NHRC took suo motu cognisance of the alleged harassment and intimidation of the human rights defenders by the Chhattisgarh Police and directed the authorities to take adequate preventive steps to protect them.
The state government was also directed to inform the status of the inquiry being conducted on burning of effigies of activists by the Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Police, FIRs registered against Sundar and others, a fact-finding team of lawyers from Telangana, the arrest of journalist Santosh Yadav on false charges, and the FIR against Dr. Lakhan Singh, President, People’s Union of Civil Liberties, Chhattisgarh.
The incident of burning of effigies of the activists by the Chhattisgarh Police occurred on October 31, 2016. The DGP, Chattisgarh, D.M.Awasthi, told the NHRC that after an enquiry by the Commissioner of Police, Bastar division, the report had been submitted to the Home Department, Government of Chhattisgarh.
The NHRC has now directed the Director-General of Police (DGP) to send a copy of the report to it within four weeks starting from March 13.
In the case of an FIR registered against the Fact-Finding team of lawyers of Telangana, the DGP, Chhattisgarh submitted to the NHRC that all the seven accused persons, namely, C.H.Prabhakar, B.Durga Prasad, B.Rabindranath, D.Prabhakar, R.Lakshimaiya, Mohd. Nazir and K.Rajendra Prasad were acquitted of all the charges by the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Sukma. The lawyers were on a fact-finding mission to Bastar in December 2016 to collect facts on encounter killings, when they were booked under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, and were lodged in Sukma jail for a few weeks.
In the case of journalist, Santosh Yadav, the FIR registered against him by the Darbha Police Station, Bastar district has resulted in a charge sheet filed before the competent court. The NHRC refrained from making any recommendation in his case, till the court passes appropriate orders. On Dr.Lakhan Singh, since the competent court has closed the matter due to lack of evidence, and the victim himself has stated that he does not intend to pursue the matter any further, the NHRC has refrained from recommending any action.
The former Inspector General of Police, Bastar, S.R.P. Kalluri allegedly threatened to stone the accused if they entered Bastar. The Congress Government rehabilitated him, despite seeking his dismissal while in the opposition.
In a press release, the activists have hailed the NHRC’s order and hoped that the Chhattisgarh government will act promptly to redress the reputational loss and mental agony suffered by them. They have expressed their hope that the police officials responsible for filing false charges against them, especially then IG Bastar Kalluri would be investigated and prosecuted.
The false charges were filed immediately after the CBI indicted SPOs and Salwa Judum leaders under Kalluri’s command for the burning of the villages of Tadmetla, Timapuram and Morpalli as well as the murderous attack on Swami Agnivesh in 2011.
To date, despite NHRC recommendations in 2008 and repeated Supreme Court directions, the Government of Chhattisgarh has not compensated the thousands of villagers whose homes were burnt by Salwa Judum. Nor has it prosecuted those responsible for rapes and murders, say activists.
Fake encounters and false arrests continue to be a grave concern in Chhattisgarh. The activists have expressed their distress that PUCL Secretary and Advocate Sudha Bhardwaj who took up such cases in Chhattisgarh has herself been arrested under false charges.
Will the direction to pay compensation to the activists who suffered at the hands of the Chhattisgarh Police refurbish NHRC’s image which has suffered considerable erosion of its credibility in recent years? Nandini Sundar does not think so. According to her, the NHRC did not inform the activists directly about its decision to award compensation. Instead, NHRC chose to inform the complainant four months after the decision. If the NHRC is sincere, it should treat its Chhattisgarh decision a precedent, and award compensation in all such cases of false FIRs by the Police – even in the case of recent Delhi riots, she said. Will the NHRC do so?
According to reports, the Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh, Rajendra Prasad Mandal, has so far not responded on whether the state government complied with NHRC’s directions in this regard.
The NHRC, despite the deadlines for filing the compliance reports getting over, has not reprimanded the Chhattisgarh Government for non-compliance. Despite the NHRC issuing its directions to the state government in March, the compensation amount is yet to reach the victims of police harassment and intimidation. This is indeed a sad reflection on the lack of commitment to the rule of law by the state government and the NHRC, which lacks the teeth to enforce its orders.
(V. Venkatesan is a Delhi based independent journalist. Views are personal)
The Activists have issued a press release with respect to the NHRC order. Read the same below here: