A tribal rights activist, Pranab Doley, who spoke about the “dangerous impunity” enjoyed by Kaziranga park staff in a BBC documentary, has been arrested in a fresh case.
Following a case filed on April 19, Doley and his associate Soneswar Narah, both from Jeepal Krishak Shramik Sangha (JKSS), were arrested on April 24 on charges of obstructing public servants from discharging their duty and threatening to burn down a forest office.
After being denied bail twice, Doley was granted bail on Thursday, only to be arrested in a fresh case. The Bokakhat police brought out a second FIR dated April 24, slapping the same charges on them, this time for disrupting police functioning.
Rights activists associated with Doley questioned the timing of the police action. “If there was a case against him on April 19, why didn’t they arrest Doley and Narah on April 21 when they attended a meeting with the state forest minister? Why wait till May 4 to tell the court if the second case was filed on April 24,” said Jorhat-based Bondita Acharya of Human Rights Defender’s Alert (HRDA).
“This has nothing to do with the BBC issue. This person has been trying to emerge as a local leader. He wanted the DFO to give in writing that forest jobs will be reserved for local tribals. That issue is being looked into at the headquarters-level, and a DFO cannot make such a commitment. Doley threatened our staff, so a beat guard filed an FIR,” Satyendra Singh, Director, Kaziranga, told The Indian Express.
“There was already a case against Doley when he came to the police station and tried to stop us from interrogating five suspects we had picked up in connection with the seizure of .303 rifle ammunition from a cowshed within 500 metres of Kaziranga. How can we fight poaching if we are not allowed to interrogate? Since he was already in judicial custody, we decided to book him for obstructing our work as well,” said Bitul Chetia, SDPO, Bokakhat.
On April 19, JKSS, along with other local organisations, held a demonstration in Bokakhat demanding reservation for those living around Kaziranga in the recruitment of Assam Forest Protection Force (AFPF) personnel, and compensation for families of victims of the forest department’s alleged excesses.
They also met Assam Forest Minister Pramila Rani Brahma when she visited Bokakhat on April 21.
“The minister assured us that all jobs would be reserved for the locals and the DFO said he would share with us the minutes of the meeting. But during our meeting with forest officials on April 24, we found that they rejected almost all our demands. During this meeting, news came that five boys were picked up by the police. When Doley reached the police station to inquire, he was also arrested,” said Putul Narah, secretary, JKSS.
In the BBC documentary on Kaziranga, Killing for Conservation, Doley claimed that the replies to a series of requests under the Right to Information Act showed many cases were not followed up properly with “things like magisterial inquiry, forensic report, post-mortem reports.”
In the film, Doley said the high number of deaths was because of the legal protection granted to the park’s guards. “It is creating animosity between the park and people living in the periphery of the park,” he said.