Orissa – Press Release of All India Fact Finding team on alleged encounters and false implication of villagers in anti-Maoist operation

May 7, 2011

An All India Fact Finding team was constituted to look into some incidents of alleged encounter and false implication of villagers in anti-Maoist operation. While Team One covered incidents in Malkangiri and Kashipur, Team Two went to Sundergarh District of Odisha.

These districts are also predominately Adivasi inhabited area and abounds in forests and has rich deposit of mineral resources, iron and bauxite and other ores. Over the years, Adivasi lands and forests have been grabbed and given the sanction of law for mining and setting up of factories. Presently, there are over 43 sponge iron units with some of them located in the reserved forest area in Sundergarh and there are 4 huge alumina plants in the districts of Koraput, Rayagada. The largest land grabber are Aluminium, Steel and Iron industries. The struggle over land, forests and water has been intensifying in recent years, with the state undemocratically crushing all peoples’ struggle with illegitimate use of force.

In this context, the recent alleged encounters happening in unrelenting series since December 2010 is not only disturbing but also forebodes a grim future.

Team 1

A fact-finding committee of seven members consisting of representatives of rights organisations from Delhi, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu visited the districts of Malkangiri, Koraput and Rayagada in South Orissa for four days from May 2 to 5 to look into reports of human rights violations in the area since December 2010. The team spoke to local people, journalists, social activists and police officials while eliciting facts.

We looked specifically into two “encounter” incidents, one on 24-4-2011 at Tentulipadar village in Nakamamudi panchayat of Kudumulugumma block, Chitrakonda tehsil in Malkangiri district and the other on 9-1-2011 at Basangamali village in Kashipur bock of Rayagada district. While one woman Maoist was killed in Tentulipadar, 9 Maoists, including 5 women (at least three of them minors) were shot dead at Basangamali.

Tentulipadar: This is a small Khond village located deep in the forest of Kudumulugumma block and falling in the jurisdiction of the Chitrakonda police station in Malkangiri district. About 25-30 Maoists came to the village on the evening of April 23 and camped a little distance from the main village for the night. We came to know from the villagers that at about 7 am on April 24 about 40 security personnel from the Special Operations Group and the BSF came in from the north. The security men moved down a hillock and straightaway began firing upon the Maoists. A woman Maoist was hit thrice, two bullets piercing her from the left part of her chest and exiting on the other side and one smashing three fingers on her left hand. The villagers as well as the rest of the Maoists ran for their lives, the former back to their village and the latter escaping into the thick forest cover to the south-west. There was no firing from the side of the Maoists. The slain Maoist has since been identified by the Orissa police with help from their counterparts in Andhra Pradesh as Ajitha alias Ratna, a native of Gangaraju Madugula in the Fifth Schedule region of Visakhapatnam district, AP. However, no efforts were made by the police of either State to sufficiently advertise this fact and contact her family members. As a result, her body was unclaimed and was buried by the Chitrakonda police.

Basangamali: This village is located high on a mountain containing bauxite reserves. Basangamali is part of the larger Sasubahumali range having large deposit of bauxite for which many alumina companies have their eyes on it. This village is of the part of Kashipur police station. The village with about 40 houses is at least 15 kms away from the nearest electrical lamp-post, only a primary school and no proper communication to outside world.

According to the police version, DVF personnel were involved in a fierce hour long gun-battle with about 20-25 Maoists of the Kashipur dalam of Vamsadhara division resulting in the demise of nine Maoist cadre including 5 women. The police say that after prior information about the presence of armed Maoists near Basangamali, 30 police personnel led by Bissamcuttack SDPO R Prakash, surrounded the area and warned the Maoists to surrender. The Maoists refused lobbed grenades at them and began firing upon which the policemen fired back in self-defence resulting in the death of 9 Maoists.

But according to villagers the police surrounded the hills above where the Maoists were camping from three sides and probably they came in the night and at the break of dawn began firing down into the valley. They also used several grenades. Nine Maoists were killed in the gunfire and the others managed to escape under forest cover to the south-east.

Soon after, two policemen came to Basangamali village and after abusing and manhandling several teenage boys, took 17 villagers along with them down to the spot where the Maoists were killed. They made the adivasis carry the bodies up to the village from where they shifted them down the mountain by tractors the same afternoon.

Injured: Champa Mandinga alias Aruna, a minor of about 15 years, was one of the Maoists who managed to escape this massacre. A native of Pipalpadar village in Laxmipur block of Koraput district, she was hit by a bullet on the left hand. She managed to reach Barigaon, close to Pipalpadar several days later. Her wound, however, would not heal with traditional medicine. On February 9, Champa accompanied with her cousin Sindhu Mandangi aged about 18, was being taken on a two-wheeler by one Lalit Dehury (of Konkamamandi near Banigocha in Naigarh district) to a doctor when they were apprehended by the Patapur police the same night. Lalit was held in illegal police custody for over three weeks and turned up dead in the Chamakhandi police station of Ganjam district on March 1. The police said he had committed suicide by hanging himself with a blanket. Serious doubts have been raised about this version and there is strong belief that Lalit died due to custodial torture.

The fact-finding team is of the opinion that the 10 Maoists who died in the Tentulipadar and Basangamali “encounters” did so due to unilateral and indiscriminate firing resorted to by the police without any prior warning. There was no exchange of fire. Based on precise information about the presence of Maoists, the police went in and shot them dead. We take strong exception to senior police officials in the State trying to pass off these slayings as a case of encounter.

Our conclusions

1. An encounter by definition means an exchange of fire. It is our contention that in all cases of encounter killing, a case of murder must be registered against the police who took part in it, arrests effected, proper investigation undertaken, and the case be brought to the court which is the proper authority to decide upon the veracity or otherwise of the police version. It will not do for the police to simply put out an “encounter” story and wash their hands off the matter. The police personnel responsible for gunning down the 10 Maoists in these two cases, must therefore be tried as per the law in the same manner as civilians would be in such a situation.

2. The stipulation of NHRC of 20 Mar 1997, and its letters to chief ministers on 2 Dec 2003 on such cases should be adhered to under all circumstances.

3. The refusal of the police to do this is indicative of the fact that the encounters are false. Besides of course, in both the instances here, the distance between the police party and the ‘encounter’ victims was below 100 meters. Can the police go so close to his adversary in a situation of exchange of fire? The villagers and witnesses have clearly stated that the police did not use mega phones.

Team 2

As it has been already stated, the continuing struggle does not seem to stir the conscience of the administration. The land grabbing, exclusion of poor adivasis from their sources of life continues. The most blatant instance is that of Adhunik Metaliks. Adhunik Metaliks Ltd was in news in 2007 for building a wall around the land acquired through a nexus between the company, administration and police. This company, along with OCL Ltd, has been given permission, on 4 May, 2011, to increase its sponge iron capacity from 0.41 mtpa to 3.2 mtpa and 0.25 to 0.95 mtpa respectively. Along with this, iron ore mining, legal as well as illegal, has been going on. Such encroachment is affecting forest area, diverting water from agriculture, reducing inflow into Brahmani river and poses a challenge to the total volume of water available for drinking and cultivation needs of Orissa. Local people told us that they have noticed a fall in the volume of water in the Khandadhar waterfall (proposed mining site for POSCO Project) in last few years, by according to their reckoning, upto fifty percent. They claim that the OMC, Rungtas are diverting water from the upper region for their mining units and their staff quarters. Ironically, this area is the abode of Paudi Bhuyan, declared a primitive tribe and thus protected by Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.

It is against this background that socalled Maoist activities have to be seen. The team looked into two incidents both falling in the forest area and related to Maoist activities.

1. Murder of Kandri Lohar and fourt year old son Shiv Barua on 11 February, 2011:

Kandri was a young adivasi woman from Sagjodi village in Bisra block, which is divided between Orissa and Jharkhand. In year 2005 she had joined the Maoists, who use to frequently visit the area. On her father’s plea that she was betrothed to one Shankar Barua she was returned to the family. Same year in July 2005 during the ‘Rath Yatra’ at Jathratad market when she along with Shankar Barua were watching the festivities she was identified by one Birsa Gudia, who had surrendered to the police because he was punished for misbehaving with women Maoist cadres. The then SP of Sundergarh offered Kandri the rehabilitation package meant for surrendered Maoists and got her married. However, the police failed to provide her the promised package. Meanwhile her marriage broke down. It was only in 2009 when she went public with her complaint against the police for not providing her what they had promised that she got a job in the Home Guard with a daily wage of Rs110. She was also given homestead (4 decimil) under Indira Awas Yojana at Bonda Munda. However the roof of the house was destroyed in 2010 during the cyclone and she was forced to shift to Sagjodi, her parents house. She used to cycle about 27 kms to the Rourkela city where she was posted. This took its toll and her fervent plea for compensation to rebuild her house fell on deaf ears. Her friend told us she was depressed having to cycle long distance and look after her son.

On February 11 two incidents took place. In the early hours of the day Rourkela police arrested three alleged ULFA men from the railway station. And the same day at 11 am three Maoists were shot dead in what was purported to be an encounter. One of them was Mohammed Muslim who was a frequent visitor to Kondri’s house and was her friend.

The same evening at 6pm she told her father she was going to her maternal uncle’s house at Mohipani for Sarswati Puja with her son. That was the last he saw her. Next day he was told his daughter and grandson had been found dead near the railway crossing. Police claimed it was the work of Maoists and the Maoists denied their involvement.

Villagers told us they do not know who had killed the two. But what was palpably clear was the fear that prevailed in the area about the police. The so called encounter was seen by many and the police had warned them before leaving. There had been several incidents in the past where villagers had been beaten or threatened. In April last a villager Matias Horo was shot dead and police claimed that he was a Maoist whereas villagers had claimed that he was innocent and shot dead and a rifle with broken trigger planted on him.

We believe only an independent inquiry can reveal the truth behind Kandri Lohar’s killing. And we are convinced that the killing of three Maoists cadres on February 11, 2011 near Sagjodi needs to be investigated because there are reasons to believe that this was a fake encounter.

2. Chandiposh/Silpunji Incident of July 2009:

On 16th July at around 10 pm an SI of Police Ajit Bardhan was abducted by the Maoists from the National Highway near Chandip;osh. Next day on 17th July at around 9 am when a CRPF team was patrolling the area there was an IED explosion about 750 meters from Silpunji hamlet in which one jawan Abdul Rafiq was injured and he died subsequently. The next day, on 18th July, dead body of SI Ajit Bardhan was found near B-Jharbeda on the road. More than a month later on 29 August 2009 police raided several hamlets of Chandiposh and Silpunji and picked up 48 persons of which 18 were released and 30 were made accused in five conspiracy cases which include abduction and killing of SI Ajit Bardhan, IED blast among other charges.

While the police made them the accused there are contradictions in the FIR. For instance the witness to abduction claimed there were 20-25 armed cadres with face masks, why did the police pick up 30 persons? How could they be identified when it was nighttime and faces were masked? Villagers claimed that even if Ajit Bardhan was taken a in a vehicle through their hamlets how could they know who was who? Also, the IED explosion took place at an hour by when menfolk had already left for their daily work at the Chandiposh Railway Siding for loading and children had gone off to the school and women were in the forest collecting forest produce.

Also no recoveries were made from any of the accused. Not even “banned literature” that Indian police is so quick to cite as evidence in cases against alleged Maoists.

However, it is what fate awaited the accused that is interesting.

They were kept in Bonai jail and the case was to be heard by Additional Sessions Judge who was to come from Rourkela. Although the trial began and two witnesses were heard. Meanwhile the judge went on leave for few months and citing security reasons the accused were shifted to Rourkela Special Jail. Once they were shifted the trial stopped because police claimed they did not have sufficient personnel to escort them to Bonai and also cited that Bonai being and “affected” area it was risky to take the accused to Boinai for their trial. Few months back IG(Jail) Prana Bindu Acharya moved a proposal to shift the accused and their trial to Bhubaneshwar. All this while the accused were neither produced before a Court, as is required under the law every fifteenth day.

On April 21 the accused wrote to the District Judge and threatened to go on strike. That’s when the wheels of justice began to move and their trial commenced on 2nd May 2011 at Rourkela Fast Track Court.

On meeting the family members of the accused what we found was the dire strait in which they live. For them the long process with delay and uncertainty have been a form of punishment. Some of them are unable to even travel to Rourkela to meet their kith and kin. Some of the children have dropped out of the school. Many a day, having lost the breadwinner, they survive on Mahua flower and tendu. They ur And earn paltry amount selling Sal leaves and “datun”. Overwhelming majority do not possess BPL cards and while they have Job Cards under NREGA they have not been provided any work under the scheme and their job cards are with someone called Rajesh, probably a labour contractor. In Silpunji village only, four children and two adults have died during this period which are directly related to the dire conditions which people live in. After seeing the conditions of people in this village, we suspect many more children might die of starvation if steps are not taken to improve their conditions.

In all these cases – Ajit Bardhan’s killing, the IED explosion and the looting of truck carrying explosives – we fear that the police have accused the poor villagers because it failed to get the real culprits.

Our Demands

1. The police officers/personnel who participated in the Basangamali and Tentulipadar killings of January 9 and April 24 of 2011 respectively must be charged under Section 302 of IPC relating to murder as well as other relevant provisions of the penal code and prosecuted.
2. The investigation into these cases must be handed over to the CBI or a criminal investigation team under the aegis of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
3. The relatives of Champa and Sindhu Mandinga at Pipalpadar must be immediately informed about their whereabouts and well-being. The Rayagada SP must make a public statement in this regard.
4. The government must stop the ongoing policy of brutal suppression of the Maoists and address that movement politically.
5. Now that the trial has begun, it must be conducted in a time-bound manner, in order to ensure that the process does not become punishment.
6. The government must provide immediate relief to the children, women and old people who are left to fend for themselves in the absence of men.
7. A judicial inquiry must be conducted into the brutal killing of Kandri Lohar and her young child.
8. A magisterial inquiry must look into the ‘encounter’ of the three Maoist cadres killed near Sagjodi on February 2011.

Fact-finding team members:

Gautam Navlakha and D.Manjit of Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), Delhi; Pramodini Pradhan, Saroj Mohanty and Nichola Barla of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Orissa; Prashanto Haldar and Partho Goswami (APDR,Kolkota); Deba Ranjan, writer and social activist; Madhumita Dutta of Committee for Justice and Peace (CJP), Tamil Nadu; V Narayana Reddy of Organisation for Protection Of Democratic Rights (OPDR); A Gnananand of Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC) and VS Krishna of Human Rights Forum (HRF) from Andhra Pradesh.