The newly elected Congress government in Chhattisgarh is set to announce a commission headed by Justice A K Patnaik, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, to look into allegations of police excesses and illegal detention of those, including tribals, in the name of fighting Maoists. It will also announce a committee which will work towards drafting a Bill aimed at strengthening freedom of speech and expression for journalists in the state.
Sources said that Justice Patnaik had given his “in-principle” approval for the one-man commission which will be assisted by local journalists, lawyers, police and civil society members.
The commission’s findings are expected to form the basis for corrective action, including release of those wrongly accused or arrested.
“In almost each case, along with some specific persons picked up and charged as Maoists, many unnamed persons, mainly tribals, are picked up and put behind bars for an indefinite time,” said an official.
Sources said that often, with paucity of evidence, these cases collapse in courts but cause harassment and alienation of tribals.
Justice Patnaik was most recently in the news over supervising the controversial CVC enquiry against former Director, CBI, Alok Verma, under orders of the Supreme Court. Earlier, he has served as Chief Justice of both the Chhattisgarh High Court as well as the Madhya Pradesh High Court. He took charge as a judge in the Supreme Court in 2009 and was in office until his retirement in 2014.
For the commission to look at the challenges faced by the press, the government is setting up a panel headed by Justice Aftab Alam, another retired judge of the Supreme Court.
Chhattisgarh had most recently registered cases of murder against two professors at Delhi University and JNU. The Chhattisgarh police have dropped murder charges against Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar, JNU professor Archana Prasad and four others, almost three years after registering a case against them at Sukma district.
On February 7, the police said its investigations did not find any evidence against Sundar and the others in Tongpal murder case.
Apart from Sundar and Prasad, the four who were booked include Vineet Tiwari of the Joshi Adhikari Institute of Social Studies; CPI(M) Chhattisgarh chief Sanjay Parate; local sarpanch Manju Kawasi and villager Mangla Ram Verma. They were booked in November 2016 for the murder of Shamnath Baghel, a resident of Nama village in Sukma district.
The charges included murder, criminal conspiracy and rioting, as well as charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the Arms Act.
In its manifesto for the Assembly polls in 2018, the Congress had spoken of relief for tribals picked up as part of “operations.”