Andhra – Independent Fact-finding Team on the 14th July Sompeta Firing

July 27, 2010

Interim Report

July 27, 2010

The fact-find team (FFT), under the leadership of Justice P.K. Misra, former judge of the Orissa High Court, was an initiative of certain public-spirited individuals and organizations who were deeply concerned at the firing on the people protesting against the proposed thermal power plant by the Nagarjuna Construction Company (NCC) near Sompeta in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh. The firing occurred on 14 July 2010 in which two persons died and five were injured by bullets (including a cameraman of TV-9 Telugu channel). In the events prior to the firing, about 300 people belonging to the neighbouring villages opposing the power plant and about 50-60 police personnel were injured.

During 24-25 July, the FFT visited Palasapuram, Lakkavaram, Isakalapalem and Ramaiahpatnam villages in Sompeta Mandal and talked to the local people who are resisting the proposed power plant to protect their life and livelihood. The Team met the District Collector, Mr. Srikanth (on the evening of 24 July), held discussions with the representatives and members of Sri Sri Sri Kanakadurga Taapi Mestri Sangam and Kalinga Vysya Sangam in Sompeta town, and visited the Government Community Hospital in Baruva Panchayat to meet some of the injured persons undergoing treatment. (Our effort to meet an injured police officer undergoing treatment in the Seven Hills Hospital in Vizag did not prove successful as he was discharged by the time we went there on the evening of 25 July).

The Team confined its enquiry to the 2-3 days prior to 14 July and also the incidents on 14 July including the firing. Some of our observations and recommendations are as follows:

1. Despite an Injunction Order by the Principal Junior Civil Judge, Sompeta (I.A. 116/2010 in O.S. 33/2010, C.A. No. 454/10) on 7 May 2010 restraining the NCC from entering into the properties of the petitioners (i.e. some of the villagers), the NCC tried to enter into the lands and perform certain works on 14 July. As a Respondent, the NCC is very much aware of the Injunction Order.

2. The police seem to have mobilized a disproportionately large force at the behest of the NCC and moved in the villages threatening the local people during 11-13 July. They even conducted flag marches in some villages. On 13 July the police have told in some villages to remain peaceful and unarmed if they want to protest. In some villages they distributed leaflets and threatened the villagers not to come towards NCC lands. (The leaflets of thepolice reflect an impression of it being the NCC’s leaflet).

It should be mentioned that in the several months before July 2010 the police have been foisting false cases on the protesting leaders and villagers and harassing them in various ways. In the villagers, an impression has gained ground that the police have been behaving at the behest of the NCC rather than as protectors of law and justice.

We also would like to state that the allegations that this movement of the villagers is the handiwork of extremists is not found to be true. It is mostly led by the local individuals under the broad umbrella of Paryavarana Parirakshna Sangam. Its leaders enjoy high respect and credibility among the villagers and also the townfolk in Sompeta.

The Team has also noticed that the lives and livelihoods of the villages are intricately linked to the wetlands (Bela lands, in local parlance) and there is a strong determination to protect those lands at any cost. Further, there is a significant level of awareness on the negative effects of the proposed thermal power plant if located in the same area. Together, this situation has been rallying the villagers in an unprecedented show of unity against the proposed plant.

3. On 14 July the police mobilized the force in a big way. There were also private persons (estimated to be about 250 or) who were wearing blue scarves around their necks, travelled in police vehicles and were also staying in the fields under tents with lathi sticks close by along with the police. The villagers, apprehending that the NCC is about to start civil works, also gathered in groups at several villages and tried to proceed towards the proposed works. They were unarmed and peaceful. At some places there were arguments and the police allowed the protestors to have a dialogue with the concerned persons. At other places, the ladies were pleading with folded hands (some even touching the feet of
police officers) not to take away their lands and livelihoods.

4. The police suddenly started lathicharge and severely beat up the women and men causing severe injuries to many. The private persons mentioned above also joined in beating up the protestors. The protestors ran helter skeltor in an attempt to escape. After sometime, the retreating men picked up the locally available sticks and attacked the policemen also causing injuries to the latter. As mentioned in the beginning, about 300 protestors and 50-60 policemen suffered injuries. Some vehicles were also burnt. Teargas shells were also fired but was not effective as the lands were marshy. The whole tension went on for about three hours or so beginning from 9.30 AM or so. After around 12.30 PM or so, the tension seemed to have subsided and the protesters as well as the police started withdrawing from the scene.

5. Firing: At this time, suddenly the firing was done from inside a police van on the road (Sompeta-Baruva road, the fields are located on either side of this road) and the police van started moving towards Sompeta while the man inside continued firing.

There was no warning.
There was no provocation for firing.
There was no apprehension of breach of peace.
The firing was done from a close range (20-30 feet).
The bullets hit the victims above waist level (except two who were hit on the thigh and the ankle).
Two persons died on the spot (G. Joga Rao of Lakkavaram, and G. Krishna Murthy of Palasapuram). Five persons sustained bullet injuries (including a camera man of TV-9 channel).
All of them were unarmed, scattered and very close to or on the road.

The Team visited the spot of the firing and talked to several people including eye-witnesses. They were emphatic in saying that the Sub-Inspector of Sompeta, Mr. Ashok Kumar, was the person who fired from inside the moving police van.

6. The Collector admitted that he was not aware of the Injunction Order issued by the local court. The Team tried to solicit some response from the Collector regarding –
– Who ordered the firing,
– Who were the people in civil dress with blue scarves along with police,
– Whether NCC made a request for police,
– What is the present state of affairs etc. etc.

The standard response from him was that all this will be known only after the magisterial enquiry (now seems to be going on by the Joint Collector). He was refusing to give a commitment on when the enquiry will be over. When we asked for a copy of the order of enquiry, he casually told us to file an application under the Right to Information Act. The Team is disappointed to note that throughout the conversation the attitude of the Collector, Mr. Srikanth, was casual and non-serious given the gravity of the situation.

7. The magisterial enquiry by a government officer has no credibility among the affected people. There is an urgent need for a higher level judicial enquiry for the purpose of expeditious interim relief and compensation to the affected people so that their lives and livelihoods are not affected. And also create a confidence in the government.

8. The Team feels that the following compensation package should be adopted: Rs. 20 lakh each for the dead, Rs. 5 lakh each to those hit by bullet injuries, Rs. 5 lakh each to those spinal injuries, Rs who suffered. 2 lakh each to those who suffered fractures, Rs. 1 lakh each to those who suffered serious injuries.

9. The government should take immediate steps to prevent the NCC from entering the area and disturb the peace and tranquility in the villages.

10. Keeping in view the Order of the National Environment Appellate Authority, New Delhi (dated 14 July 2010) the government should undertake a survey of all the wetlands in Srikakulam district “pending which no project should be cleared on such locations”.

Justice P.K. Misra, Former Judge of the Orissa High Court.
Prof. C. Ramachandraiah,Social Scientist, Hyderabad.
Mr. Clifton D’Rozario, Advocate and Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore.
Prof. Arun Patnaik, Political Scientist, University of Hyderabad.
Dr. K. Laxminaryana Reddy, Economist, University of Hyderabad.
Dr. M. Thimma Reddy, Peoples Monitoring Group, Power Sector, Hyderabad.
Ms. Saraswati Kavula, Documentary Film Maker, Hyderabad.
Mr. D. Suresh Kumar, Law Student, Hyderabad and Coordinator of the Team.