Kandhamal deaths: NCST chairman to visit Odisha today

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Bhubaneswar: Amid outrage across the state over Kandhamal crossfire incident, which claimed life of six civilians including a 15-month old baby, chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) Rameswar Oraon will visit Odisha today for an on-the-spot inquiry into the case.

Official sources said Oraon will visit Kandhamal on Wednesday and submit a report to the Home ministry after a meeting with senior government officials in Bhubaneswar.

Talking to our correspondent in New Delhi yesterday, he had said the July 8 incident in Kandhamal district was not the first such incident in Odisha. There have been two-three instances in the state earlier where the police have killed innocent tribals. In all these incidents, police was not able to do any harm to Maoists. Instead, it opened fire at the tribals suspecting them as the Maoists, he said.

Describing the incident as ‘very sad and unfortunate’, he said the Commission would hold a meeting with the senior state government officials in Bhubaneswar on July 11 before visiting the area in Kandhamal district where the incident had occurred and interact with the people.

“The intention of my visit is to find out why such incidents take place frequently in Odisha where the innocent tribals are killed by the police in the name of encounter with Maoists. Anti-Maoist operations are being conducted in other states too. But such incidents are happening only in Odisha. The state government has to look into the matter seriously. I will have a meeting with the senior officials of the state to find a permanent solution to stop such sad and unfortunate incidents in future,” Oraon said.

On the death of a 15-month old baby girl, who was among the six tribals killed during the encounter, Oraon said the security personnel clearly had no idea that they were not Maoists . But they still fired at them indiscriminately suspecting them to be Maoists.

“All I can say i s it was not a targeted attack. The incident is the outcome of the poor intelligence network of the State Police. I would not say that the State Police has poor intelligence network. But in this incident, there was certainly a serious intelligence failure. I will talk to the chief secretary, Home secretary and the DGP and tell them to find a concrete mechanism to ensure that no such incident take place in future,” the NCST chairman said.

Reacting to the ex-gratia announced by the state government to the families of the deceased, Oraon said; “Giving Rs 5-10 lakh has no meaning. After all, you cannot compensate the life a tribal with money.”

The NCST chairman also said the inquiry by a Judicial Commission announced by the state government into the incident should be completed within 90 days and the state government must act on the basis of the report and the recommendation of the Commission.

Expressing grave concern over the incident, well-known social activist Swami Agnivesh said the six innocent tribals were brutally murdered by the CRPF and SOG personnel. He said the Supreme Court verdict on the fake encounter of more than 1500 civilians in Manipur is applicable to the inciden, which took place in Kandhamal district.

“The incident needs to be probed by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) and the hearing conducted on day-to-day hearing. Apart from this, the families of the deceased have to be given Rs 1 crore ex-gratia each and the security personnel responsible for the killing of these innocent tribals should be immediately placed under suspension,” he told media persons yesterday.

In its verdict on July 9 on fake encounter of 1528 civilians in Manipur, the Supreme Court had said that indefinite deployment of armed forces in the name of restoring normalcy under Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) “would mock at our democratic process”, apart from symbolising a failure of the civil administration and the armed forces.

The apex court had also observed that “Ordinarily, our armed forces should not be used against our countrymen and women” and that “every person carrying a weapon in a disturbed area cannot be labelled a militant or terrorist or insurgent” and be killed without any inquiry.

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