Kandhamal ‘crossfire’ deaths: Opp targets CM

Bhubaneswar: The Opposition today trained its guns on chief minister Naveen Patnaik over the killing of six civilians, including a 13-year-old boy and a 15-month-old girl child, during what has been sought to be passed off as an exchange of fire between security personnel and Maoists in Malapanga forest in Kandhamal district on Friday night.

“It seems the incident that took place in Kandhamal district on Friday night is a repeat of the Kalinganagar firing incident in 2006. When the police had gone to track down the Maoists, how did it fire at these innocent civilians? When the auto-rickshaw carrying these tribals came on the way, why should the police open fire at it instead of firing at the Maoists? It is quite evident that the state government, which desperately announced a judicial probe, compensation and other sops to the families of the deceased, is squarely responsible for the incident,” BJP leader Bijay Mohapatra told media persons at a press briefing here today.

He said the state government should remove the IG and Kandhamal SP with immediate effect and initiate exemplary action against them as they are responsible for the death of six civilians, including a 15-month baby girl. “The government should register a murder case against these two officials,” he demanded.

Union Tribal Welfare minister Jual Oram also blamed the chief minister for the incident.

“The Naveen Patnaik-led government is anti-tribal by nature. It is the same mindset of the state government, which had indiscriminately killed the tribals and chopped off their hands after their death in Kalinganagar in Jajpur district. I strongly condemn the incident. A team from the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) will soon visit Kandhamal and conduct an on the spot inquiry,” Oram told OTV. in New Delhi today.

Expressing grave concern over the incident, senior BJP leader and Union Petroleum and Natural Gas minister Dharmendra Pradhan said the incident reflects the attitude of the state government towards the poor tribals.

Maintaining that the announcement of ex-gratia, compensation and job to the families of the deceased by the chief minister has no significance considering the enormity of the crime, he said the state government is only shedding ‘crocodile tears’ in ordering a judicial probe.

“Let the Odisha High Court monitor the investigation by a sitting Judge. The state government must form a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to ensure a fair and unbiased probe into the incident,” he pointed out.

Describing the incident as utterly shocking, senior Congress leader and Leader of Opposition leader Narasingh Mishra said the incident speaks volume of the barbaric attack on the innocent people by the police. “This government is out and out anti-tribal. Be it in Kalinganagar or Kandhamal, the government is killing innocent tribals on one pretext or the other,” he maintained.

Reacting to the clarification issued by the police and the government, he said they claim that it was an accident and not deliberate. “But if the police knew that such an incident might occur, then it is criminally liable. The chief minister is solely responsible for the incident,” he said.

Talking to media persons after meeting the injured tribals at the MKCG Hospital in Berhampur today, CPM, Odisha secretary Ali Kishore Patnaik demanded Rs 20 lakh compensation to each family of the deceased. He demanded immediate arrest of the CRPF personnel, who had indiscriminately killed these innocent tribals.

In a bid to defend his party and the government, BJD leader and Rajya Sabha member Prasanna Acharya said the chief minister had taken immediate steps following the incident. He has ordered a judicial probe, announced ex-gratia to each family of the deceased and promised to provide them with all benefits.

Accusing the Opposition of giving a political colour to the incident and trying to get political mileage out of it, he said; “It was an accident. I feel that the attempt of the Opposition to implicate the chief minister in every issue reflects their sick mentality.”

Terming the incident as pathetic, BJD spokesperson Pratap Deb said as per the preliminary report, it was an accident. “The state government has already ordered a judicial probe into the incident. Whoever it is, whether he is the IG, SP or any lower rank officer, stern action would be taken against him. The clear picture will come out on Monday,” he added.

Surprisingly, Minister for ST/SC Development Minorities and Backward Classes Welfare, Lal Bihari Himirika, who should have been the first to find out the details, expressed his ignorance about the incident when asked by the media persons here today.

“Where did the the tribals die? I have no information. If such an incident has happened, I will look into it,” he said.

Asked how come he did not know about the incident despite being the minister for tribals, he said he was not in Bhubaneswar. “I was at my village. I came to Bhubaneswar this morning. If such a thing has happened, my department will certainly inform me,” he assured.