A week after an Andhra Pradesh special task force (STF) opened fire at alleged red sanders smugglers killing 20, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Monday directed Tamil Nadu DGP to grant protection to witnesses Sekar (54) and Balachandran (29) who gave their statements before the commission and their families.
The NHRC further said police protection could be extended to the panchayat presidents of the witnesses’ villages.
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The commission also directed Andhra Pradesh government to conduct a magisterial inquiry (the state government had earlier submitted before the High Court that they had ordered a magisterial inquiry into the April 7 incident). NHRC also said names of all forest officials and police officials, who were on duty and were part of the STF, must be submitted on or before April 22 and that post-mortems of all bodies should to be conducted according to NHRC guidelines. It also said documents relating to the incident “shall not be destroyed, tampered with or weeded out during the pendency of the NHRC proceedings.”
On Monday, executive director of People’s Watch — which brought the witnesses to Delhi — Henri Tiphagne said the recording of each statement took about an hour. Both witnesses were represented by human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover.
Sekar, hailing from Pudur Kollamedu village in Andhra Pradesh’s Tiruvannamalai district, told the NHRC that he had left his village for the first time on April 6 after he was offered a masonry job in Chennai. He was in a bus with Mahendran, Murthy and Munusamy, who were later killed in the incident. “Sekar said when the bus conductor said Tirupati, he was alarmed as he knew that it was not towards Tamil Nadu,” Tiphagne said.
According to Sekar’s statement, near Arcot bus stand, a man, aged about 30, boarded the bus, walked up to Mahendran and asked him to step out. Then he realised the other two were missing as well.
“Somewhere along the journey a woman sat next to Sekar. He thinks the man who boarded the bus thought he was the woman’s husband and did not pick him up,” Tiphagne said.
He added that Sekar had said he got off the bus at the next stop and rushed home. “Sekar said that the next day a policeman came to his house with a picture of Mahendran and said he had been killed in a forest near Tirupati,” Tiphagne said.
Speaking to reporters at the Press Club of India, Sekar said: “I am scared to go back to my village.”
Balachandran hails from Andhra Pradesh’s Dharmapuri district. His father was among the 20 men killed in the firing.
A daily wage labourer, Balachandra has said he was contacted by Palani, a contractor, on April 4 for a job in Pondicherry. He brought along more men, including his father Harikrishnan, for the job and they met Palani on April 5. A day later, while waiting for a bus in Arcot, he and another man went to drink at a government liquor shop, he has said.
On returning, they realised they had missed the bus. Balachandran added that when the other man reached Nagari Puthur, Palani told him to go back as police may arrest them. When he called his relative Sivakumar, an unknown voice answered: “Your men are here. So come to Tirupati immediately.” Later, he learnt that his father was one of those killed.