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108 encounter killings in four months "undermine" Supreme Court guidelines, India's tribal autonomy laws

By Our Representative
The National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), apex body of tens of civil rights organizations of India, has estimated that, over the past four months, the toll of alleged Maoist killings has risen to 108. In a statement issued in the wake of the latest encounters at Gadchiroli (Maharashtra) and Bijapur (Chhattisgarh), NAPM has said, "Killings of this scale, which should have shocked and shaken the collective conscience of this nation, unfortunately does not even evoke the necessary outrage."
Signed, among others, by well-known social activist Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan; Aruna Roy of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan; Prafulla Samantara of the Lok Shakti Abhiyan; Lingraj Azad of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad; Dr Binayak Sen of the Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties; Sandeep Pandey of the Socialist Party, among others, the statement regrets that the state is "ever-ready to package these as deaths as necessary, rather inevitable, for safeguarding ‘national interests’."
Especially referring to the recent series of "killings of adivasis" by the CRPF and C-60 elite anti-Naxal force, NAPM says, at least 39 people, including 19 women were killed on April 22-23 at Gadchiroli and 8 people, including 6, women were killed on April 27 at Bijapur, adding, "Some of those killed and/or have gone missing are, reportedly, minors." A month esrlier, Telangana's elite anti-Naxal force Greyhounds "gunned down 10 suspected Maoists, including 6 women."
The statement comes amidst several civil liberties groups having raised disturbing questions about the circumstances of these encounters, the unilateral nature of the attack and deaths, the unpreparedness of the Maoists who had reportedly camped nearby for a wedding party, disproportionality of the use of force with Under Barrel Grenade Launchers (UBGL) bound to cause excessive causalities, more bodies fished out vis-à-vis arms recovered.
"Following ruthlessness of the attack, what left us dumbfounded was the celebration of these killings by certain jawans. Encounter killings both in the Maoist-infested regions as well as in certain other states has crept into the state policy in an unannounced way and is being brutally employed to shut down dissenting voices and people", the statement says.
Pointing out that "Uttar Pradesh shines brightly on this front with over 1,000 encounter killings to its credit in the past one year", NAPM says, "It is important to also note that, since 2014, concerned of the increasing number of such unaccounted and unaccountable encounters, the Supreme Court laid down elaborate guidelines to be followed while inquiring into encounter deaths and directed that these guidelines shall serve as law of the land under Article 141 of the Constitution".
"This set of 16 guidelines includes", says NAPM, " Recording of tip-off of any criminal activity, registration of FIR and prompt forwarding of FIR, diary entries, panchnamas, sketch, etc. to the competent court, independent investigation by CID or a police officer above the rank of officer leading the team that indulged in encounter, magisterial inquiry under Sec 176 CrPC, furnishing all information to NHRC/ SHRC, expeditions trial."
The guidelines also talk of "six-monthly report by DGPs of all states to NHRC on encounter killings/police firings, compensation to family of deceased, disciplinary action against concerned officers, refraining from glorification and grant of gallantry awards without establishment of facts, option for family to approach sessions judge in case of questions about the impartiality of inquiry". However, NAPM says, "One finds that in a large number of instances, meticulous compliance of even these minimum guidelines is not ensured."
Pointing out that these encounters have taken place in "heavily forested areas inhabited by countless adivasi communities", NAPM says, "These areas are supposed to be administered and governed by Governors of these regions along with consultation by Tribal Advisory Committees constituted with three-fourth members from Scheduled Tribes. The Governors are directly answerable to the President of India regarding the political situation of these areas."
"However", says NAPM, " What we have been witnessing is an absolute police-raj and paramilitary-raj in these areas in the name of ‘eliminating Naxalism’, backed by state-impunity, at the behest of corporate interests. Indias anti-insurgency and anti-terrorism laws like Section 121 of IPC and UAPA are implemented with a heavy hand, whereas talk, let alone implementation, of Schedule V, Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996; Forest Rights Act, 2006; Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989..."

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