85 Adivasi villagers in Raigarh called upon the Chhattisgarh police to conduct a prompt, independent and impartial investigation
Raipur: 17 October 2018 10:21 am
On Tuesday, 16 October, 85 Adivasi villagers in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, called upon the Chhattisgarh police to conduct a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into allegations that they had been unlawfully dispossessed of their lands by people acting as agents for two private companies.
Over a year ago, around 80 Adivasi villagers in Raigarh filed criminal complaints under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act – alleging unlawful dispossession of their lands – in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Welfare Special Police Station. However, despite repeated pleas by the villagers, the police refused to register First Information Reports (FIRs) – a first step in criminal investigations.
Yesterday, the Adivasi villagers appealed to the Superintendent of Police, Raigarh, to register FIRs based on their complaints. After waiting for over a year for police to launch an investigation, the villagers approached the Superintendent of Police using Section 154(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which allows for such an appeal if an officer in charge of a police station refuses to record information pertaining to the commission of a cognizable offence.
“It is unfortunate that the Chhattisgarh police failed to look into the allegations made by the Adivasi villagers and refused to register FIRs on their complaints. These Adivasi men and women have a constitutional right to access justice, which has been denied for far too long. They are facing grave human rights abuse and it is the duty of the police to protect them and prosecute those who are responsible for the wrongful dispossession of their land,” said Asmita Basu, Programmes Director, Amnesty India.
On 14 June 2017, 81 Adivasi women and men tried to file First Information Reports at the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Welfare Special Police Station in Raigarh, alleging that they had been forced into selling their land – as a result of threats, intimidation, coercion and misinformation – to agents of TRN Energy and Mahavir Energy Coal Beneficiation Limited (MECBL), operating in collusion with local land registration officials. The police refused to register First Information Reports on the grounds that in 2016, the villagers had filed civil cases before the Sub Divisional Magistrate of Gharghoda village, which were still under judicial consideration. However, there has been limited progress in the civil cases, which have been pending for over 2 years now. According to Indian law, an affected person has access to both civil and criminal remedies simultaneously. Hence there is no bar on registering FIRs on complaints filed by the villagers.
Despite the fact that the police never launched an investigation against the two private companies, local human rights defenders have reported that agents acting on behalf of the companies have repeatedly threatened, intimidated and harassed them about withdrawing the complaints.
Pavitri Manjhi, the Adivasi Sarpanch of the Bhengari village council has been facing harassment for her peaceful activism. In April 2018, two men visited her home on multiple occassions and told her to “withdraw all the cases filed against the company”. They said “nothing will happen with the complaints you filed, better to withdraw all your complaints” and “everyone who helped you file the complaints are outsiders and will not be able to save you and we will silence them”. Pavitri reported the harassment to the police but no FIR was registered in relation to the harassment. However, Pavitri is determined to stand up for the rights of her community, she said, “We are struggling, we are fighting for our land and we will continue to fight for the same.”
Yesterday during the filing of the complaints, the Additional Superintendent of Police, Harish Rathore, assured the complainants that investigations would be conducted.
“Indigenous Adivasi villagers have a right to be involved in matters that affect their lives and livelihoods, but this right is seldom protected by authorities. Chhattisgarh authorities must step in urgently to protect the rights of Adivasi villagers in Raigarh. The Superintendent of Police, Raigarh, must ensure that the allegations of unlawful land dispossession are investigated, and protect the villagers facing harassment for defending their rights,” said Asmita Basu.
In 2016, Adivasis from four villages (Khokhraaoma, Bhengari, Katangdi and Nawapara Tenda) of the Gharghoda Sub-division in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh, informed Amnesty India that they had been forced into selling their land to two private companies: TRN Energy Private Limited, as subsidiary of ACB (India) Power Limited in 2009, 2010 and 2011; and, Mahavir Energy Coal Beneficiation Limited (MECBL) in 2004 and 2007.
Some villagers alleged that they had not been paid the amount mentioned in the sale deeds, or had been paid only part of it. Many said that their land had been sold at prices far below the market value. Some also said that they had been first told that only part of their land would be sold, but later found that all their land had been registered as sold. Some of the plots of land sold appear to currently be under the possession or use of TRN Energy and MECBL.
At present, TRN Energy operates a 600 MW coal-fired thermal power plant in Khokhraaoma village in Raigarh; and, MECBL operates a 12 MW biomass power plant in Bhengari village in Raigarh. Amnesty India wrote to TRN Energy and to MECBL in 2017, and sought their responses to the allegations of unlawful land dispossession made by the Adivasi communities. However, the companies never responded.
Under international human rights law and standards, states have an obligation to protect the rights of Indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed consent on decisions that affect them. This right is recognized in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and also by UN treaty bodies interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, to all of which India is a state party. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights, and reiterate that states have an obligation to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises, including by taking appropriate steps to investigate, punish and redress such abuse.