Incident of police firing in Pagar village, Hazaribagh district, Jharkhand on 23 July 2013
Preliminary Report of the National Fact Finding Team
31st July – 1st August, 2013
The recent incident of police firing in Pagar (Keredari Block, Hazaribagh district), an area that falls within the mining interest area of National Thermal Power Corporation, India’s biggest thermal power generating company, and a Public Sector Undertaking, has shocked all of us. Coming as it does as the latest link in a chain of violence, from physical attacks, intimidation and filing of false cases against local activists and communities including local MLAs, this incident is a cause of grave concern for us.
The decision to constitute a fact finding committee was taken after several rounds of discussions with concerned communities and movements. The fact finding team, coordinated by the National Alliance of People’s Movements and the Delhi Solidarity Group, brings together people from different movements and organisations.
1. Adv Prakash Ambedkar, former MP (Akola, Maharashtra) and member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy.
2. Dr Kalyani Menon Sen, independent researcher and member, Women Against State Repression and Sexual Violence, Delhi
3. Prof G. Arunima, Head, Department of Women’s Studies, JNU, Delhi
4. Jatin Desai, Writer and journalist, Mumbai, Maharashtra
5. Sanjeev Kumar, Delhi Solidarity Group, Delhi
This team spent two days in travelling to the affected villages and meeting members of the community, injured people and their families, officials of the NTPC, and the medical team who is treating Shri Nanhu Mahato who has been admitted in the Ranchi Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) with a bullet lodged near his spine.
The following summary is based on information gathered from local activists, as well as interviews and discussions with the affected parties.
· Police firing took place on 23rd July 2013 in Chatti Bariyatu (Keredari, Hazaribagh), which is a part of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC)’s coal block.
· 50 year old Kesar Mahto was killed during this firing, and five others were seriously injured.
· The people of the Karanpura area have been protesting against the activities of NTPC ever since they entered this area in 1999. Approximately 2500 false cases have been filed against villagers and activists who are opposing mining projects.
1. NTPC has interests in four coal blocks in the Karanpura Valley, Hazaribagh. These are Pakri-Barwadi, Chhatti-Bariyathu (south), Chhatti-Bariyathu (north) and Keredari. The incident of 23rd July occurred in Pagar village, Chatti-Bariyathu (south). This coal block has two revenue villages Chatti-Bariyathu and Pagar. Until now, the NTPC has been able to acquire only 59 acres of land from some 169 families in these four coal blocks.
2. Pagar village is about 70 km west of the district headquarters Hazaribagh. This village is situated at the western end of the district, and is contiguous with Chhatra zila. Pagar village has approximately 2700 families, of whom more than 2000 families are opposed to giving their land to the NTPC.
3. At first glance, it may seem as if this incident was the result of a dispute between the contractor and the villagers, an interpretation that the NTPC is also actively promoting and disseminating. However, the fact-finding team notes that the contractor Dileep Singh derives his locus standi from his connection with the NTPC, which cannot therefore distance itself from this incident.
4. On 23rd July 2013, at 8:30 am, a group of villagers under the leadership of the village mukhia, Jharilal Mahato, attempted to stop the contractor Dileep Singh from beginning construction work on a piece of land previously owned by him and handed over to NTPC for construction of a site office. In the ongoing scuffle, Vikas Singh, contractor Dileep Singh’s son, attacked Kamalnath Mahto with a kudali (a sharp farm instrument), breaking his head open. Kamalnath Mahto was badly wounded, suffered severe blood loss, and fell unconscious. He was rushed to Keredari hospital by the mukhia other villagers, where he was treated and given 22 stitches to close the wound.
5. Meanwhile, Vikas Singh fled the worksite and ran towards the village, pursued by the other villagers. On reaching the village, he rushed into the nearest house (belonging to Bilsi Devi) and locked himself up into a room.
6. Hearing the commotion a large number of women and children joined the group gathered at Bilsi Devi’s house. The fact-finding team notes that this group that was entirely unarmed. In the words of one of the women present there, no one had even a ‘datun’ . The villagers informed the mukhia of the tense situation and urged him to rush back from the hospital in Keredari. They continued to wait peacefully for the mukhia to arrive so that the culprit Vikas Singh could be apprehended and handed over to the police.
7. Meanwhile a posse of six policemen led by ASI M.N. Singh arrived on the spot around 10 am and ordered the villagers to disperse. The villagers explained the situation and appealed to the police to wait until the arrival of the mukhia. The police responded by threats and firing 2-3 rounds in the air. Despite this the villagers stayed firm, repeating their request that the police wait until the headman arrived before removing Vikas Singh from the village precincts. According to the villagers, the policemen were drunk and abusive.
8. At around 1030, the police entered Bilsi Devi’s home and brought Vikas Singh out, surrounding him protectively. Two of the constables, Ravinder Sharma and Rana Pratap Singh began firing indiscriminately at the villagers and ran through the village escorting the culprit Vikas Singh to safety.
9. Around 18-20 rounds were fired by the police. The villagers later retrieved eight bullet casings (cartridges), of which they gave four to the police. The rest are with them and were shown to the team.
10. As the villagers scattered and police ran through the village firing indiscriminately and randomly in all directions. Kesar Mahato who was sitting outside his house at the time, was shot in the abdomen. He was rushed to Keredari hospital by the villagers where he was declared dead.
11. Of the other five persons who were injured, one person (Nanhu Mahato) is admitted in RIMS hospital, Ranchi with a bullet lodged near his spine in the lumbar region. His condition is serious and the team was told that the surgery required is a high-risk one which cannot be undertaken in RIMS.
12. The team also met Makhan Verma who was hit on his knee, and Ramesh Mahto who was injured by a bullet that penetrated his cheek. Despite the gravity of their grave injuries, they were sent back home after some simple first aid at the Keredari hospital.
13. It is noteworthy that five out the six of the injured people had been shot above the waist, indicating that the police shot to kill. However, none of the policemen had received so much as a scratch on their body, proving conclusively that the firing was unprovoked and completely unnecessary. The incident is even more shocking because of the presence of large numbers of women and children in the crowd.
14. The team found the atmosphere in the village to be tense, with an apprehension of further violence. Several FIRs have already been filed against villagers. The police also continue to come to the village almost every day, and were present during the team’s visit.
15. The villagers too have now lodged a case against policeman MN Singh, and the NTPC officials.
16. The team visited the NTPC office in Hazaribagh. We were informed by SK Tiwari (AGM, Projects) that various CSR projects have been undertaken by them in Pagar village, including health camps, distribution of school uniforms, renovation of panchayat buildings and so on.
17. NTPC officials also informed the team that they will begin mining in the region by the end of this year.
After a preliminary analysis of the facts, the team has come to the following conclusions.
· It is clear that the CSR ‘benefits’ being offered by the NTPC are intended to persuade people to surrender their land and allow mining activities. Despite the compensation package, the NTPC approach violates the Adivasi’s right to livelihood, dignity and time-honoured practices of sustainability.
· The team wishes to underscore that people’s ongoing problems cannot be resolved via the means of CSR programmes. On the contrary, this has created a host of new problems. For instance, NTPC’s programme of giving Rs. 10,000 as a “gift” at the time of a daughter’s wedding is tantamount to flouting the Dowry Act. The team strongly condemns such interventions. The Adivasi people of the region are facing a crisis in livelihood, and welfarist programmes like those being promoted by NTPC are attempts to hide, rather than address, the problem.
· The filing of false cases against locals, culminating in this unwarranted and unnecessary firing in Pagar, has created fear and tension amongst the villagers. The threat of violence is palpable.
· The present model of “development” that is centred on promotion of mining and extractive industries is today creating new social, economic and political hierarchies and is threatening the lives, livelihood and culture of the people of Jharkhand, as well as the ecology of the entire country. This incident symbolizes the struggle of the people against this distorted notion of “development” needs to be situated within this wider context.
· Immediate action should be taken against the policemen responsible for the firing in Pagar village. Several FIRs have been filed by Shri Kamal Mahato, the family of Shri Kesar Mahato and the families of others injured in the firing – these should be acted upon with delay.
· Compensation should be paid to the injured, as well as to the family of Shri Kesar Mahato who was killed in the firing. The State government should meet all medical costs and arrange for immediate transfer of Shri Nanhu Mahato (who admitted in RIMS with a bullet lodged near his spine) to a facility where he can get appropriate treatment without delay.
· False cases filed against the people of Pagar village should be immediately withdrawn. Action should be initiated against the individuals who have filed these cases.
· The State government should not allow the acquisition of fertile agricultural lands for coal mining and extractive industries. Karanpura is a region where traditional agriculture is flourishing, and should provide lessons for an ecologically sustainable and people-centred alternate development model for the State.
· Mining and extractive industries cannot be allowed to destroy the economy, ecology and culture of the State – they must not be promoted as part of state policy.
· The State government should initiate a dialogue with communities, peoples’ movements and civil society groups to evolve a development vision for the State.
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