PUCL Bulletin, September 2002

The adivasi struggle for land rights at Koel-Karo
Jharkhand PUCL Report on Killing of eight tribal villagers police firing at Tapkara Jharkhand on 02.02.2001

(The preliminary report of Jharkhand PUCL on the killing of eight Adivasis at the Koel-Karo dam site at Tapkara was published in the Bulletin of April 2001. Here is the final and full report - Chief Editor)

Also see,
Tapkara police firing PUCL report
, April 2001

Suppression of Rights of People for Corporate Interests, Feb 2001

Background:

Koel-Karo area is 80 Kms away from Ranchi located in the South-West Region of Ranchi District Geographically. Koel-Karo Hydro-Power Project is one of the oldest Hydro-Power Projects in India. The above Hydro - Power Project shall have a projected power generating capacity of 710 MW. Two earthen dams are proposed - one 55-meter high dam on north Karo River at Lohajimi and second 44-meter high dam on south Koel River at Basia.

As per original project report of 1973 an estimated 125 villages would be affected (as per 1986 Rehabilitation Plan of the Dy. Commissioner, total number of villages to be affected was put at 112) resulting in displacement of 7063 families. As per Project Director 4700 families of 42 villages shall be affected. Whereas Koel-Karo Jan Sangathana claims 256 villages to be affected causing a displacement of 1,50,000 people of which 90% shall account for tribals.

PUCL team has not verified the above claims and counter - claims. However, PUCL do have an experience of finding serious technical anomalies in the claims of such project reports. In one of its findings in displacement by Subarnrekha Project, the PUCL team came across a horrifying fact where Subarnrekha-Multi-Purpose project officials claimed 14 villages to be affected at the first phase of submergence (in the year 1991) whereas actual number of affected villages were 52 by the said submergence. In the initial project report they claimed 32 and 84 (a total of 116) villages to be fully and partially submerged respectively. However, Vishthapit Mukti Vahini (an organization of displaced fighting for proper rehabilitation of the displaced in the area) kept reiterating their claim of 38 villages to be submerged completely. Their claim was proved right when the project officials quietly revised their estimate after the first phase of submergence making the figure to 38 and 78 villages to be submerged fully and partially respectively. The wider submergence in the first phase where 52 villages were affected instead of 14 claimed by the project officials though did not result into any casualty but wreaked its havoc on the unprepared hapless villagers causing considerable damage to their properties, rendering them homeless coupled with unprecedented mental shock and sufferings.

The protest against Koel-Karo graduated into a movement against the Dam and the consequent displacement from an initial demand of employment of local people in the construction work in the year 1973-74. The local people were informed nothing in respect of the project and resultant submergence and displacement of the people of the area. However, the moment local people came to know that Lohajimi village would be submerged with the construction of the Dam they immediately stopped all construction work in the area relating to project work in the year 1974-75. The initial Jan Sangharsha Samiti of 1973-74 finally evolved into a strong united organization under the leadership of Mozez Gudia in the name of present Koel-Karo Jan Sanghathana. Thereafter, the people of the area under the said banner fought tooth and nail against the construction of the Dam.

The organization gained strength out of local political and socio-economic system, its own experiences with the project officials, experiences of other projects like Subarnrekha-Miiltipurpose-Project (SMP) and Kutku etc. and the local socio-cultural beliefs and practices.

The following points can be subscribed for a basic understanding of the factors responsible for strengthening the organization and movement:

  1. The area is predominantly rural and almost 90% of the population comprised different tribes of local people inhabiting the area for ages.
  2. Their economic activity predominantly comprises agriculture, cattle, forest products and aqua/piscine-culture. They exchange goods for goods and use money for limited purchase of other items from the market. Commercial activity is equally not on bigger scale.
  3. Their cultural-religious system is interwoven in SARNA (SUN God called Singhboga), SASANDIRI (Graveyard of their Ancestors having a separate tombstone) and Ghosts. The people of the area believe that unless and until their God Singhboga comes in their dreams and orders to change the place of their worship i.e. SARNA, their place of worship can not be changed under any other circumstances. The rehabilitation of SARNA and SASANDIRI has been the focal point of their demand all these years.
  4. The movement got impetus from experience of displacement and losses from other projects. At KUTKU, 19 villagers died of drowning on 6 August 1998, on account of heavy flooding of the catchments area of the Dam due to continuous rain, the onus of this mishap can be solely assigned to the lack of responsibility and concern for the hapless displaced villagers of the area on the part of Project and Government officials. The displaced of Kutku were given meagre compensation and no serious effort was made for their rehabilitation. The rehabilitation effort can be gauged by the simple fact that during the last 20 years only 16 families have been settled at the Ideal Rehabilitation Center of Kutku named MARDA village.
  5. The experience of Displaced of SMP (Subarnrekha-Multi-Purpose Project) has been no better. The rehabilitation process has been abandoned completely by the Project Officials and the erstwhile Bihar Government on the pretext of lack of funds. However, the Government has started selling the Dam water to TISCO and other industries located in Jamshedpur which fetches crores of rupees. On the other hand, the Government has been making attempts for quite sometime to sell the fishing rights to outsiders by inviting tender much against the assignment of the fishing rights to displaced through a Co-operative as per the initial Project Report on Rehabilitation.

The Koel-Karo Jan Sanghathana declared a Janata-Curfew preventing the project of officials to enter the area and in the process put a wooden barrier reportedly three decades earlier the uprooting of which by the police party without informing the Jansangathana became the genesis of above incident.

First Incident (1st February 2001; Village - Derang; P.O Tapkara; PS Torpa) FIRs, Police Version and Initial Media Reports. (Annexure - III).

The Rania PS Incharge Akshay Kumar reported to have information of movement of armed squad suspected to be connected -with Maoist Communist Centre (MCC, a Naxal outfit) moving in the Lohajimi village of the Koel-Karo area. He reported the matter to R.N Singh O.P incharge, Tapkara. Together they moved in two trucks with about 20-25 armed policemen to confront/arrest that squad. While going to Lohajimi from Tapkara the police force crossed the wooden barrier (Janta Curfew Symbol) put by Jan Sanghathana at Derang by using the open passage on one side of the barrier. However, while returning at around 3.30 PM evening the police party uprooted the wooden barrier at Derang and loaded the same in their truck. At that moment Amrit Gudia, an ex-serviceman, son of Jaimasih Gudia, resident of Gutuhatu, Tapkara P.S Torpa, confronted the police party.

He was on his way back home after executing some personal work, As per police version he was in a drunken state. His behaviour enraged the police party and he was thrashed. He raised an alarm. Hearing his cry for help one Lorentus Gudia, son of Late Chamru Gudia, resident of Lathuatoli of Derang village rushed to the spot and having seen Amrit Gudia bleeding profusely pleaded the police party to stop beating Amrit Gudia. Enraged further by this new interference the police party caught hold of Larentus Gudia and started thrashing him too. But Larentus Gudia somehow managed to free himself from their clutches and ran towards the village for help. By the time he rushed back to the spot along with other fellow villagers the police party had already left leaving Amrit Gudia in an unconscious state. He was attended and after he gained consciousness, rushed to Referral Hospital at Torpa.

The matter was reported to the Koel-Karo Jan Sanghathana President Raja Poulush Gudia (Note: He is no more now as he died recently due to prolonged illness; He was the Designated PRAHA RAJA i.e. King of village Confederacy). The Jan Sanghathana leaders gathered at Bhandartoli village the same day at 9.00 PM night under the leadership of Raja Poulush Gudia. Having heard the incident some agitated youths wanted to go to Tapkara O.P to ask for explanation the same night however, elderly leaders prevailed upon them and thereafter it was decided to organize a peaceful demonstration the next day on 02.02.2001 at 9.00 AM in the morning to register a protest against the police atrocity and removal of their symbolic wooden barrier near Shaheed Sthal (Martyr's Place) at Tapkara.

Demonstration and Police Firing (2nd February, 2001, Shaheed Sthal, Tapkara).
Villagers from different villages of the area began to gather near Shaheed Sthal from 9.00 AM in the morning onwards on 2nd February, 2001 to hold a peaceful demonstration as per the decision taken by Jan Sanghathana the previous night. The sqatted near Shaheed Sthal peacefully attended by men, women and children in large numbers. As per police version there were more than 4000 people at the site. Eyewitnesses put similar figure at around 4-5 thousand people. The villagers choose 5 representatives- a) Raja Poulush Gudia, b) Soma Munda, c) Vijay Gudia, d) Poulush Gudia, and e) Sader Kandulna from among themselves to present a Memorandum containing their Charter of Demands to the police officers.

The Memorandum comprised four demands that read as follows:

  1. The police officials must replace the uprooted barrier back at Derang with due respect and in accordance with tribal customs.
  2. Both the injured victims- Amrit Gudia and Lorentus Gudia be paid compensation of Rs. 50,000 each.
  3. The twin guilty officers-in-charge R.N. Singh, Tapkara O.P and Akhshay Kumar, P.S Rania be suspended with immediate effect and be removed out of the area.
  4. As a matter of policy, only Tribal Officers should be posted in tribal areas.

By that time, DSP, Khunti F.K.N Kujur and L.R.D.C cum acting S.D.O, Khunti Anup Sharan arrived at Tapkara O.P with additional police force at around 1.00 PM. The memorandum was first read in front of the people and then presented to DSP Kujur and Anup Sharan in presence of R. N Singh, Akhshay Kumar and police personnel. The DSP expressed his inability to take any decision especially the question of suspending the twin officers as the jurisdiction for the same fell with S.P Rural, Ranchi. He also told the representatives that he was sending information to the SP Rural, Ranchi Umesh Singh. Later, they were informed that the SP would be reaching Tapkara by 4.00 PM.

In the meantime, some people brought local BJP MLA Koche Munda. He arrived and entered the O.P to hold a discussion on the situation. He also complained against the general arrogant and unacceptable behaviour of R. N. Singh, Tapkara O.P. Having deliberated he came out and addressed the gathering in Mundari and thereafter, proceeded towards a nearby shop along with some Jan Sanghathana leaders. As reported, soon after the departure of the MLA from the scene one Nizam Khan (allegedly a local timber mafia) and his men incited the crowd to violence. To control and disperse the violent mob they were first lathi-charged and then some tear gas shells were exploded. However, these turned the crowd more violent and as the crowd torched one police vehicle by that time and as also there were firing from a section of the crowd that created an obvious security concern for the lives of the Police Personnel and other authorities present at sight, the crowd was fired at after issuing adequate warning leaving eight dead and dozens injured. (Annexure-II)

Facts Emerging Out Of Enquiry:
Except for Anup Sharan no police official interviewed by the PUCL team categorically corroborated the police theory in FIR of MCC aimed squad movement. (However, this does include R.N. Singh the former Tapkara O.P Incharge as he refused to meet the PUCL team). LRDC cum acting SDO Anup Sharan believes that the demonstration was MCC sponsored and that the people were armed. It should be noted that the Koel-Karo area has so far been free from any Naxal activity. The people of the area have been well united under the banner of Koel- Karo Jan Sanghathana and no Naxal outfit has been reported to have been operating or taken an initiative to organize the people under its banner. Local people including some Police Officials (who did not want to be named) denied the fact of any Naxal activity in the area. In fact, the said Police Officials even admitted that compared to other areas, the Koel-Karo region has been free from serious crimes in general excepting for some witch hunt, land disputes and other petty crimes.

This fact can be established by the number and nature of crimes reported to Rania P.S and Tapkara O.P. The fact that even after almost one year of the incident no trace of MCC or any other Naxal outfit operating in the area also strengthens the above fact despite the abandonment of Tapkara O.P. (It should be noted that Tapkara O.P was deserted the next day of the incident which till the date of this reporting has not been manned).

The theory that people were armed is also not true. The people were unarmed by all means though some were carrying traditional weapons like clubs, axes and hatchets, and bows and arrows. The police report mentioned continuous firing from the west region and police personnel while collecting dead bodies and the injured did find 12 bore four empty shells (khokas). Anup Sharan also corroborated this statement (whereas other Police Officials interviewed did not subscribe anything to this theory). Serious anomalies remained in the Police version. They reported continuous firing from a section of the crowd for a long period but finally claiming to have recovered only four empty shells. There was no injury by bullet or pellet to any Police Personnel nor was any trace of bullet mark anywhere neither to police vehicles parked outside the O.P nor on the wall or any other visible substance. The Police Officials also failed to exactly tell the whereabouts or disposal details of the said empty shells. (No records were available).

The other claim of the police report accusing one Nizam Khan, an alleged local timber mafia and his men to have incited the crowd to violence could not be supported or established in PUCL enquiry.

As per the depositions of independent and key eyewitnesses, statements of Police Officials, the demonstration was peaceful, people were unarmed and well under control of their traditional leadership. Women along with some children were sitting just in front of the Tapkara O.P. The trouble started soon after the departure of local MLA Koche Munda. R.N. Singh enraged by the direct attack by Koche Munda came out along with Akhshay Kumar and a host of Police Officials shouting that they had received the orders and started thrashing people sitting in front of the O.P indiscriminately and in the process did not even spare women and children. This sudden assault and inhuman beating of women and children provoked the youths and soon they started pelting stones on the Police Party. This forced the police party to retreat. They rushed inside and then there were few firings in the air.

People started to move back and all of a sudden, the rifle-wielding Police Personnel started firing at the fleeing crowd. A few immediately fell on the ground after being hit by bullets. This created a panic and soon people started fleeing in all directions. However, the death and several injuries filled the people with grief and anger who though dispersed and scattered in all directions, did not return to the village immediately but hide themselves to nearby places. As the crowd was big and they stood their ground the Police Party, having already sensed the gross mistake on their part took their positions inside the O.P kept firing intermittently for a considerable period ostensibly to prevent attack by people in retaliation and for their own safety. As per eyewitnesses, the firing started at around 4.30 PM and continued until 5.30 PM. The statement of Poulush Gudia, Village-Kaleth, P.S. Torpa who works in Torpa land acquisition office equally supported the above fact. As per his deposition on 4 February 2001, (also see our preliminary report) undergoing treatment at RMCH Male Surgical Bed no. 241, he sought an early leave for the day at around 4.00 PM and took an hour to reach Tapkara at around 5.00 PM. Not aware of the troubles continued walking the Tapkara-Derang route reaching his village passing in front of Tapkara O.P (though he was little puzzled seeing people going in all directions) suddenly hit by bullet in his right hand.

The tear gas shells claimed to have been exploded were actually exploded after the firing to force the people near O.P to move back.

Though the police FIR claim to have fired 79 rounds, the eyewitnesses dispute the claim and put the figure at more than 150 rounds. The police FIR claimed the crowd continued pelting stones even after several rounds were fired resulting into several casualties already, audaciously and foolishly trying to imply that the people were waging a war against the armed Police Officers with the help of stones in their hands. The eyewitnesses claim that had there been any attack or counter-attack from crowd the casualties on the other side i.e. Police Party would have far outnumbered the casualties on the peoples' side.
The claim of the police that the unruly mob touched their vehicles was also found to be untrue in the light of statements of some key eyewitnesses and in the absence of any single contrary statement from the independent public some of who witnessed part/ whole episode.

The police vehicles were intact until 5.30 PM. We herein reproduce the statement of a key eyewitness. Samuel Topno (His FIR to SC/ST police station is also enclosed for reference) whose statement was well verified and corroborated by other eyewitnesses. He reached Tapkara O.P at around 3.30 PM accompanied by Philip Gudia and Dharmadas Gudia, He stood at Lampus Office situated on the northwest comer of the O.P. Immediately there was firing. He tried to move backward but was not able to avoid being hit in his left leg just above his ankle. He was taken to a nearby house. Four Policemen chased when three boys were carrying him away from O.P towards east. The boys left him on the spot. He was taken and thrown near O.P in a sack. There the Policemen tortured him in the most inhuman way. They also allegedly tried to kill him. He saw (not sure of time) a few Policemen came out of the O.P removed all the four wheels (but probably forgot to remove the extra fifth one) of the Police jeep and then put the vehicle on fire. Not only this as claim the other eyewitnesses a section of the Policemen went on rampage destroying the windows, doors, roof etc. of the O.P, collected and threw stones all-round obviously to create an exaggerated impression to strengthen their claims.

Death Of Jaleshwar Ram-A Police Constable: The death of Jaleshwar Ram is not reported in the first FIR filed by the police. His dead body was recovered in half burnt state almost one km. away from O.P. Anup Sharan while talking to PUCL team made surprising remark that he had come know about the death only through newspaper reporting. The incident happened the same day later m the evening (after the firing incident). There has been speculation, claims and counter-claims regarding this death. However, the fact remains that he was beaten to death by an irate mob comprised of youths of Jan Sangathana in retaliation of the firing and killings of innocent villagers.

However, as the team established the fact by deposition of key eyewitnesses, it was difficult to determine the real intention of the mob.

Observation and Comments:

  1. The genesis of disturbance lies in the uprooting of the wooden barrier by the Police Party at Derange on 1 February 2001 and inhuman torture meted out to Amrit Gudia who dared to question the police action. While answering to queries of PUCL team Akhshay Kumar (now former Rania P.S incharge) mentioned that Amrit Gudia was drunk and snatched his badge while confronting the police official and therefore, they had no other option than to beat him. The question is why did police not take him into custody by due observance of the procedure laid instead of thrashing and subjecting him to inhuman torture? Where did the police derive the right from to beat any citizen in a democratic country like ours conferring certain fixed fundamental rights through a written Constitution?
  2. No Police official or administrative authorities has given an answer as to why did police party remove the wooden barrier placed by Gram Sabha at Derang. During conversation, Akhshay Kumar admitted that he was ignorant of the culture of the area and history of the wooden barrier obliquely referring to his counterpart R. N. Singh to furnish the reason for such removal. It appears that R. N. Singh charged by his arrogance and pugnacity ordered the uprooting and removal of the barrier. When questioned he got both Amrit Gudia and Lorentus Gudia thrashed by the same audacity. It may be recalled that even the local BJP MLA Koche Munda complained about his behavior. It was he who prima-facie appeared to be ultimately responsible for the tragic death of eight people and injury to several others. However, it is disturbing to note that reportedly no departmental enquiry was ordered, no show cause was issued and after a brief gap he was reinstated (promoted) as officer-in-charge of a sensitive P.S in the heart of the capital Ranchi. No action was taken/initiated on the FIRs lodged to SC/ST police station by Amrit Gudia and Samuel Topno on 16.02.2001. When the team tried to talk and get a clarification on the same from Umesh Singh rural SP, Ranchi the team was told that, the matter being sub-judice he was not in a position to comment on the same.

    This is an indirect signal to impunity for the police personnel and other related authorities for anything done, any crime committed or perpetrated or any law, rule or right of citizens violated with the authority of the Government and/or Law, This is a dangerous situation and the above viewpoint is duly supported by some consequent incidents in Jharkhand and violation of custodial rights becoming a rule in this region.

    An enquiry had been ordered at the Government level but almost a year has elapsed but till date nothing has been come out of it nor the PUCL team was provided any progress or other information in this regard. However, it should be mentioned that the team tried to seek an appointment with Deputy Commissioner Sukhdeo Singh several times without success.
  3. Firing was ordered by Anup Sharan. The Police took the plea of firing by a section of the crowd and torching of the police vehicle by the violent mob. PUCL team negates this theory of firing from a section of the crowd and torching of police vehicles by violent mob almost with finality and concludes this to be fabricated.

    PUCL team enquired about this to both Anup Sharan and F.K.N Kujur. The DSP F.K.N Kujur did not subscribe anything to the police claim of firing by a section of the crowd though he did mention heavy stone pelting from the crowd. However, Anup Sharan claimed that the demonstration was MCC sponsored and they were armed. They became violent and started pelting stones He narrated an interesting story. According to him when the crowd turned violent and started pelting stones he sensed an obvious fear on his life and immediately took shelter under a table but soon contradicted himself when he said that when the people became uncontrolled he came out his hiding declared the gathering as illegal an ordered for firing. In fact, neither Anup Sharan nor F.K.N Kujur came out of the O.P when the firing started as per confirmed eyewitnesses' depositions.
  4. There are some more question as to a) what prevented the Rural SP Umesh Singh to reach Tapkara even after the intimation was sent to him? b) How could R.N. Singh who was responsible for massacre of eight people and an incident of this magnitude allowed to take charge of a sensitive place in the State Capital Ranchi without conducting an enquiry into whole episode? Some people did allege R. N. Singh having developed certain financial interest in the smuggling of wood in the area. c) Why the police are silent about the death of Constable Jaleshwar Ram? What made him move in the area after the firing incident when others were hiding inside the O.P and waiting for some additional force to come for escorting them out of the O.P? d) The Tapkara O.P is now deserted apparently indicating that it did not-serve its purpose. What prudence was there in establishing the O.P at the first place, as without serving any real purpose it must have cost the Government exchequer considerable amount?

Conclusion: PUCL team after concluding its enquiry pronounce R.N, Singh (former Tapkara O.P), Akhshay Kumar Ram (former Rania P.S incharge), DSP Khunti F.K.N Kujur and LRDC cum acting SDO Anup Sharan along with other Police Personnel directly responsible for the murder of eight persons and injury to several others. They were not only responsible for violation of fundamental right of Right to life and Personal Liberty of the people as conferred under Article 21 and other rights under Article 15 and 19 of the Constitution but the way the whole incident was effected shows the blatant of misuse of power and authority by the Police Personnel and other authorities with almost total impunity.

Our Demands:
The police officials and authorities mentioned aforesaid should be booked under law and prosecuted and punished under relevant provisions of PENAL CODE.

The victims should be adequately compensated as per principle established by the APEX Court in Nilabati Behera v. State of Orissa, AIR 1993 SC 1960).
We, therefore, request you to take immediate cognizance of the same ensuring equitable justice and relief.

Thanking you.

Yours faithfully,
For PUCL, Jamshedpur, Nishant Akhilesh, General Secretary; For PUCL, Ranchi, Shashibhushan Pathak, Member, PUCL, Ranchi


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