Skip to main content

Niamgiri villagers in Odisha "subjected to" illegal arrests, kidnapping, fake encounters

Counterview Desk
A fact finding team, consisted of six members of Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), a nationwide civil society network, visited Odisha from March 23 to 27 to understand the issues impacting the tribal communities – Dongria Kondhs, Kutia Kondhs and Majhi Kondhs – and Dalits, following the alleged violence meted out on them to make way for mining giant Vedanta to do its business.
Consisting of Puja, a legal academic and lawyer, Patna; Mamata Dash, social researcher, New Delhi; Shobha R, theatre activist and researcher, Bangalore; Arundathi V, cultural activist and teacher, Kodaikanal; Meera Sanghamitra, environmental researcher and activist, Hyderabad; and Sharanya, social activist, Koraput, the team interacted with people from Lakhpadar, Dangamati and Patanpadar and surrounding villages in the Niyamgiri Hills, as also also Kenduburudi, Trilochanpur, Jagannathpur, Rengopalli and Chhatarpur villages in Lanjigarh area.
The need of the fact-finding by WSS, says an interim report prepared by the team, arose in the context of the recent arrests of leaders of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti (NSS) and the March 18 “violent crackdown” on villagers affected by Vedanta’s Lanjigarh refinery project demanding jobs and education facilities for their children, leading to the deaths of two persons.

Excerpts from the interim report:

The state seems to be utterly non-committal to implementation of the Supreme Court’s verdict and other laws of the land as well as non-responsive to the genuine demands of the people be it regard to consultation with the gram sabhas, provision of permanent jobs to project affected families, land based rehabilitation, quality education and health services, abetment of pollution by industries, etc. Instead the State by using repression, intimidation, violence and surveillance, is contributing to the rising tensions in the region and insecurity in the lives of some of the most marginalised and peace loving communities.
The situation for the adivasis is exacerbated by the fact that Vedanta, which prides itself as a responsible corporate, has failed the people on every front be it education, health, employment, compliance of anti-pollution laws, etc. and the state machinery, including the regulatory authorities, have made no attempts to make company accountable. Instead the state has strengthened the hands of Vedanta by raising the Odisha Industrial Security Force (OISF) which has been at the centre of the current tensions in the region.
Setting up of permanent CRPF Camp at Trilochanpur
The state government has proceeded with setting up a permanent CRPF camp at Belguda village under Trilochanpur Panchayat despite no written consent from the Gram Sabha and by forcefully evicting four adivasi families who were cultivating on that land for generations.
The Trilochanpur Panchayat office has been forcibly taken over by the CRPF for temporary camping at the behest of the Sub-Collector, Block Development Officer and Civil Supply Officer with no consent from the villagers who are the rightful owners of the land.
The state government seems to have taken no action against the forced eviction of the four adivasi families despite their written complaint.
The elected representatives and activists of NiyamgiriSurakhya Samiti (NSS) were reportedly summoned to the Superintendent of Police’s office and told in no uncertain terms that their ‘opposition’ to setting up the CRPF camp would not be taken well by the administration and hence they must restrain from raising the issue any further.
Land acquisition in Kenduburudi and Jagannathpur
The government has a proposal for acquiring another 50 acres from Kenduburudi andJagannathur villages for setting up the rehabilitation colony for the displaced families of Rengopalli, Kotduar and Bandhaguda villages and also a permanent CRPF camp. This is in addition to the already acquired 1000 acres from this village in 2005-2006 by using police might.
The villagers are opposing this bid for fresh land acquisition in the light of the fact that they still have not been adequately rehabilitated and compensated for the earlier land acquisition and have been informed by the Tehsildar that the land belonged to the government making their claims irrelevant.
The villagers are opposing the fresh bid to acquire their lands and fear that they might face repression from the police and security forces.
Construction of red mud pond at Rengopalli
We met several women at Rengopalli who shared their reluctance to leave their ancestral lands and were kept totally in the dark about their future and the reasons for their displacement and dispossession.
They also shared that they face regular health issues like burning eyes and nose, skin infections, contamination of their food and water, etc. due to the dust that flies into the village from the red mud pond that has been built by Vedanta very close to the village.
The women shared that on the fateful day of March 18 the men of their village had gone to the gate of Vedanta to demand two basic supports from the company – a school bus for transporting their children from the village to DAV school and free education for their children at the school. They are now paying heavy fees for their children’s education at DAV school.
The women also shared that they have not got any health facilities from Vedanta for the health problems they are facing and shared that the company’s hospital does not have good doctors or medicines whenever they go there.
Death of Dani Batra and March 18 incidence of violent crackdown
According to the villagers of Chhatrapur, the strike of March 18, was organized by the villagers of Rengopalli, Bandhaguda and Kotduar from 6.30 am and by about 9.30 am the strike concluded following some oral assurance to the people by one of the officials of Vedanta. The contract labourers from nearby villages, including Chhatrapur, were waiting at the gates to enter the factory for their work. At this point a vehicle and bus full of OISF personnel reportedly descended on the villagers and company’s labourers and lathi charged them mercilessly.
In this chaos, Dani Batra, who also received severe beatings in the lathi charge, ran into a pond nearby to escape further beatings. But the OISF personnel allegedly dragged him out of the pond, and broke his hand and legs and crushed his private parts and threw him back into the pond leading to his death. His wife, Sayindri Batra, however shared that they are awaiting the post mortem report.
Sayindri shared that she has yet to receive the declared compensation of INR 25 lakhs which was promised to her in a written assurance on behalf of HK Bhatia, HR Manager of Vedanta who met her on March 18 after Dani Batra’s death. The written assurance also talks of taking care of the education expenses of her three sons and providing a permanent job to her in the company.
The reign of terror post the March 18 incident by Vedanta on its own workers has been such that for ten days the workers lived in fear of going back to work at the factory. They fear that the company would foist false charges on them for the burning and striking because the police would use CCTV care footage to track down all those who were present at the scene that day.
The company has also washed its hands off any responsibility towards the emergency critical care of its workers injured in the late charge. The villagers also said that they have no idea about who torched the offices and other property of the company on that day leading to the unfortunate death of OISF personnel Sujeet Minz. This was also corroborated by the lawyers and other sources the team interacted with.
Our interactions with the villagers of Chhatrapur revealed that there is an ongoing large-scale violation of the workers’ rights within the company. We learnt that workers from about 10-15 villages near around the company have been working in the factory for more than 18 years as contractual labourers. As a result of this there have been regular dharnas and lock downs by the workers and villagers affected by the activities of Vedanta in the area.
Intimidation, alleged false arrests and alleged false encounters
The fact-finding team was able to gather detailed evidence about the intimidation, alleged false arrests and alleged false encounters in Tadijola, Gorata, Dongamati, Kandel, Lakhpadar, Nisanguda, Ambadhuni, Nachinguda, Ningundi and Patanpadhar. In almost all these villages there have been instances of kidnapping, illegal detention in forests, being beaten up and interrogated and accused of being Maoist supporters by the police and CRPF.
In the case of Kuni Sikaka, which was also covered by the media, she was picked by the police at midnight in 2017 from her marital home in Gorata by women police and was held in custody and forced to surrender as a Maoist. When her family went to demand her release, they were forced to sign on blank papers and their pictures were taken and released to the media as surrendered Maoists. Until this day, Kuni Sikaka, her husband Jagli Pusika and father in law Dadi Pusika do not know what is written on the blank sheets of paper that they were forced to sign on as a condition for release.
In all the villages visited, there have been cases where the police/CRPF have illegally detained villagers in the forests and intimidated and interrogated them about whereabouts and other information about Maoists, which they do not have. They have also been cases of where innocent villagers have been accused of being Maoists and Maoist supporters, arbitrary cases slapped on them and arrested.
The cases slapped on them have included false and random accusations such as murder, rape, domestic violence and so on. Furthermore, many of the falsely accused and illegally detained have not been informed about the cases that are being filed against them. Almost all the villagers who have faced intimidation, arrests, detention, kidnapping or murder are/have been active members of the NSS. The villagers feel these are intimidation tactics employed by the police to silence them.
In all the villages visited, there are many people who have been implicated and accused in various cases about which they have no information, whatsoever. The only time when they come to know about such cases having been framed against them is when they are picked up by the police, detained or interrogated. Spaces such as the forest, paths between villages are increasingly becoming unsafe for the villagers of Niyamgiri. Women particularly feel unsafe by the presence of the CRPF in the forests.
The people who have been arrested and sent to prison have also testified facing custodial torture, including electric shocks and solitary confinement for more than seven days at a time. Illegal ways in which arrests have happened include kidnapping, blindfolding, torturing, detention in forests before taking them to the station, not informing about the reasons for arrest or the charges they have been accused of.
Not a single person had seen a copy of their FIR, chargesheet or any other case documents pertaining to them even after spending years in prison. Arrested people who were out of bail were not informed of the bail conditions, as a result of which they were in a constant state of fear of imminent arrest, whenever they would go to the market or the forests.
The fact-finding team discovered that the only presence of government projects in these villages have been those that have attempted to rob the Dongria Kondh of their identity and agency. For instance, the DKDA has for the past 30 years consistently influenced young minds to stay away from their cultural roots and identities and adopt new consumerist and mainstream ways of life. As a result, some of the villagers have consciously chosen to not send their children to school.
Recommendations
  • The Governor of Odisha, as custodian of the scheduled areas, should act upon the memorandum submitted to him by NSS with regard to the forced eviction of four families for building the CRPF camp at Trilochanpur
  • Implement the Forest Rights Act and PESA in Niyamgiri in letter and spirit as re-affirmed in 2013 and 2016 Supreme Court verdicts 
  • Immediately stop all plans of constructing or setting up of any further CRPF camps without the explicit and informed consent of the concerned Gram Sabhas 
  • Action to be taken against erring officials responsible for illegal detention, kidnapping, illegal arrests and false encounters of innocent villagers of Niyamgiri. An independent inquiry to be set up in consultation with Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti 
  • Adequately compensate the families and the villagers affected by State supported violence in consultation with the Niyamgiri Surakya Samiti

Comments

TRENDING

North Gujarat gram panchayat bars villagers from dealing with Muslim hawkers, traders

By Our Representative  A gram panchayat in North Gujarat has barred its residents not to buy anything from Muslim traders and hawkers. An order of the Waghasan group gram panchayat of Tharad taluka of Banaskantha district dated June 30 states that the decision has been taken in the wake of beheading of a Hindu tailor after he posted a derogatory writeup on Prophet Mohammad in Udaipur. The gram panchayat resolution says, anyone seen buying or selling any commodity from a Muslim hawker or trader would be fined Rs 5,100. Bringing this to light, Mujahid Nafees, convener, Minority Coordination Committee, in a letter to Gujarat chief minister Bhupendra Patel, says, the state government should take legal action against the panchayat chief who has signed the “unjust” order. The letter says, the act of the sarpanch and other signatories is a violation of rule of law of the state and threat to peace, pointing out, the move is in violation of Article 15 of the Constitution, which says that none

Unlike Soviet Union, Russia is no friend to India: Ukrainian scholar tells 'Indian friends'

Counterview Desk In an open letter to "dear Indian friends", Anastasia Piliavsky, born in Odessa, Ukraine, studied at Boston and Oxford Universities (on a Rhodes Scholarship), and now teaches at King’s College, London, has said that she faces "deep moral dilemma", personally and professionally, over the "astonishingly unified Indian response to the war in Ukraine." Based on her interaction with a "number of thoughtful and caring Indian friends", in this letter, she says, she is "reeling at the ubiquitous silence at, justifications of or outright support for Putin’s terror, which now prevails in India, at the ubiquitous #IStandWithPutin and #istandwithrussia hashtags." She insists, India must understand, "Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia is no friend to India. Soviet leaders, beginning with (the Ukrainian) Nikita Khrushchev – who declared hindi rusi bhai bhai – built up deep political and cultural exchange with India." Text : I

PLFS data: Is rising employment good news? Deeper analysis suggests contrary results

By Ishwar Chandra Awasthi, Puneet Kumar Shrivastav*  Results of the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), 2020-21 , released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India (GoI) on June 14, 2022, show improvement in work force participation rate (WPR) and labour force participation rate (LFPR) and declining unemployment rate. Four rounds of data have been released from 2017-18 to 2020-21 based on PLFS. The general trend in the last four rounds clearly shows consistent increase in WPR and LFPR and falling unemployment rates by usual status (PS+SS). Though increase in WPR and LFPR is reported highest in 2019-20 over 2018-19, yet rising trend in these two key indicators continues throughout, and similarly fall in unemployment is registered highest in 2019-20 over 2018-19. Clearly, the recent results give some solace and relief after unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic that has entailed enormous loss of human lives and livelihoods and crippled economic activit

Technocratic globalism, tyranny? Health Ministry warned: bill to 'enslave' Indians

Sandeep Pandey, Tushar Gandhi By Rosamma Thomas*  Union of Concerned Citizens, a group comprising Magsaysay Award winner Prof Sandeep Pandey, human rights activist Tushar Gandhi, former judge of the Bombay High Court BG Kolse Patil, pediatrician Dr Jacob Puliyel and several renowned Indian citizens have written to the Union Health Minister cautioning him against tabling the draft Public Health Bill in the Monsoon Session of Parliament. “The Public Health (Prevention, Control And Management Of Epidemics, Bio-Terrorism And Disasters) Bill, 2017 and a Prospective Bill of 2022 as discussed in news articles, is straightforwardly violative of Fundamental Rights of the citizens of India and therefore, Ultra Vires of the Indian Constitution. It contravenes several International Treaties and Conventions including the Nuremberg Treaty of 1947 which was enacted to ensure that no country would repeat such inhuman medical atrocities on fellow human beings”, the 12-page letter reads. “Strangely, t

Chennai residents 'suffering': Faulty design, implementation of storm water project

By NS Venkataraman*  The Greater Chennai Corporation is now implementing storm water drainage project in 559 roads, covering a distance of 1033 kilometres, which cost around Rs 4,070 crore. For this massive project, which is targeted to be completed between April and September this year, huge loan has been availed from World Bank, Asian Development Bank and others. Several technocrats have pointed out that the project has been designed with outdated technology and quality of the implementation is so poor that the residents have been put to great hardships. As part of the project, digging of the road has been done to around 5 to 6 feet deep and width of around 4 to 5 feet. The drains are being constructed using steel reinforced cement concrete with two walls on either side with provisions for manhole, chute etc. This has been done in front of several houses leaving little space between the gate of the house and that of the drainage structure. As the work has been going on for mor

'Drop all falsed charges': 150 citizens demand early release of AltNews co-founder

Counterview Desk  About 150 concerned citizens have demanded the release of Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of the fact-checkng newsportal AltNews, arrested over a 2018 tweet which allegedly hurt religious sentiments, even as booking for criminal conspiracy and having received foreign funds in violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). Denied bail last weekend and sent to 14-day judicial custody, the concerned citizens, in a statement, regretted that while the Delhi High Court issued notice to the Delhi police on a petition filed on behalf of Zubair challenging the legality and propriety of his police remand and the seizure of his electronic devices, the “frivolous case” continues. Excerpts: The illegal arrest of Mr. Mohammed Zubair happened on June 27, 2022, by the Delhi Police for allegedly hurting religious sentiments and promoting enmity over a tweet from 2018. The IPC Sections included 153(a) (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race,

Prime Minister's 'affordable' housing policy fails to help Gujarat slum dwellers: Study

By Rajiv Shah  A new study on the implementation of one of the major policy initiatives for the urban poor by the Narendra Modi government after it came to power, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), has said that in Gujarat, which happens to be the Prime Minister’s home state, has quoted state officials as “confirming” that no progress towards tenure regularization, a key requirement for providing housing to the state’s slum dwellers. Stating that this particularly true of smaller town, the study, carried out by the non-profit Homes in the City (HIC), which is based in Bhuj, district headquarter of Kutch that saw a devastating earthquake in 2001, says, the failure to provide affordable housing is there despite the fact that there has been “significant demand” in all the 83 out of 153 Gujarat municipalities studied by experts involved in the study. According to the study, out f a total of 1.41 lakh demands for housing under the Beneficiary Led Construction (BLC) category, 94,232 (66.7%)

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

'Contractor-official nexus led to RTI activist's murder': Fact-finding team seeks probe

Courtyard inside of PWD office where Ranjeet Soni was killed Counterview Desk  A fact-finding team* visited Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh (MP) on June 19, 2022 to meet with the family of Ranjeet Soni, who was shot dead on June 2, 2022 inside the premises of the PWD office in Vidisha. The objective was to gather information about the circumstances surrounding the death of Ranjeet Soni and his work on exposing corruption through the use of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. A report prepared by the team members says that Ranjeet had been extensively using the RTI Act to access information from the government, and upon receiving documents showing misuse of public funds or corruption, he was filing complaints to various authorities including the Lokyukta, Publi Works Department (PWD) and the Chief Minister’s Office. It notes, Ranjeet used to work as a contractor and often undertook government works in collaboration with other contractors, including those being investigated for his murder. A f

Electricity Bill: Centre's reform measures contain 'carrot and stick package' for states

Counterview Desk  The Peoples’ Commission on Public Sector and Public Services (PCPSPS), claiming to be a network of eminent academics, jurists, erstwhile administrators, trade unionists and social activists, seeking consultations with stakeholders with those who are against the government’s decision to monetise, disinvest and privatise public assets/enterprises, has said that the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill-2022 will have far-reaching impacts on the finances of states. Insisting that the proposed Bill would lead to “assault on India’s federal structure”, in a statement, it says, it would weaken the finances of states’ power distribution companies, have adverse impact on utility employees, cripple the states' finances, impose a heavy cost burden on the smaller subsidized consumers (especially farmers), and benefit only corporate business houses. “States cannot afford to ignore the far-reaching implications of the Bill on their economy, finances, agricultural and industria