NIA Conducts Coordinated Raids on Rights Activists Across 62 Locations in Andhra, Telangana

The raids were in connection with the 2021 Munchingiputtu CPI (Maoist) conspiracy case. Devices and literature belonging to functionaries and lawyers of the Indian Association of People's Lawyers and Human Rights Forum, along with various other rights bodies were seized.

Mumbai: Officials of the National Investigating Agency (NIA) arrived in groups of four and five in 62 locations across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh on October 2, in coordinated raids at the homes of human rights activists and researchers.

The raid teams – comprising of NIA officers from Delhi and the local police – arrived between 5.30 am and 6 am on the day, and stayed at the locations till afternoon. 

One such raid was carried out at the house of a senior lawyer and rights activist Durba Suresh Kumar. Suresh, also a member of the Indian Association of People’s Lawyers, told The Wire that he was woken up by the NIA sleuths.

“I was woken up by the officers. They had flown down, along with panch witnesses. But the local police were not informed,” Suresh said. The local police, Suresh says, joined much later. From Suresh’s house, the NIA seized his phone and a 12-page pamphlet of the People’s War Group, dating back to 1993. 

Suresh says for the longest period, he was not aware of the nature of the raid and the exact case in connection with which it was being conducted. The NIA later informed him that the ongoing raids were a part of the “Munchingiputtu CPI (Maoist) conspiracy case” – in connection with which similar raids were carried out at the residences of many rights activists and academics in 2021.

Suresh was served a notice under section 160 of the CrPC, asking him to be present before the NIA as a witness. This, Suresh points out, is both “unlawful” and “unethical”.

“I am a counsel for many persons named in the case. I represent them in the high court and now the NIA wants me to appear before them as a witness in the same case,” Suresh told The Wire over a phone call. 

This is not the first time that a lawyer has been named an accused or asked to be a witness in the same case they have appeared as counsel in, before a court. Surendra Gadling, a Nagpur-based lawyer and an accused in the Elgar Parishad case, was also made an accused in one of the cases in which he had defended an accused in the conflict-affected Vidarbha region in Maharashtra.

HRF functionaries targeted

Of the 62 locations raided, 53 are in Andhra Pradesh and nine are in Telangana. Along with the raids on October 2, the NIA also arrested one Chandra Narasimhulu, allegedly a state executive committee member of the Pragathiseela Karmika Samakya (PKS), an alleged front organisation of the banned CPI (Maoist). Narasimhulu was arrested from Satya Sai district in Andhra Pradesh. Along with his arrest, the NIA has claimed to have found a pistol, 14 rounds of ammunition, and Rs 13 lakhs in a case from another spot in Kadapa district. Maoist literature and pamphlets were also seized, the NIA has claimed. 

Most of those raided were unsure if they are being looked at as suspects or witnesses in the case. The house of K. Sudha, a state executive committee member of Human Rights Forum, was also raided. Sudha, who reaches at a state law university, said the NIA has taken her phone away. 

As raids took place at Sudha’s house, V.S. Krishna, the convener of the HRF’s Andhra Pradesh and Telangana units reached Sudha’s residence. Krishna’s house was raided in 2021 in the same case. Krishna told The Wire that he got calls from two other HRF members, who said that the NIA broke into their houses because they were not home when officials arrived. “I tried contacting other members. When Sudha did not pick up the call, I knew the NIA had reached her place too,” Krishna said. 

The two other person’s whose houses were raided when they were away are HRF’s AP state general secretary Y. Rajesh in Amalapuram and the organisation’s state vice-president K.V. Jagannadha Rao in Srikakulam. Rajesh, who was on his way back from Bengaluru, when The Wire called him late on October 2, said that the NIA contacted him a little before 6 am. “They came with a notice under Section 165 (2) of the CrPc, which authorised them to search the premise. Some of my neighbours went to my place and the NIA conducted the raid,” Rajesh said, adding that the NIA has not made any seizures from his house. 

Books, vernacular literature

However, from another HRF functionary’s place, the NIA has picked up over 60 books. Sudha, who shared information about the raid, said, “They basically picked up every book and document that had red font on it.” Krishna said the officers did not know to read Telugu. “Most books and our write-ups are in the local language. They mindlessly picked things up and later call it incriminating,” he added.

Besides HRF and IAPL, houses of the members of the Civil Liberties Committee (CLC), the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), and the Revolutionary Writers Association (RWA), were also raided among others. The NIA has accused veteran rights activists and organisations of acting as “fronts” to the CPI (Maoist) organisation, banned in 2009. This claim has been vehemently opposed by rights organisations. HRF has called the NIA’s claim “a plain canard”. “Seeking to criminalise our human rights activity will never succeed. HRF is not an appendage of the Maoists or any other political party. HRF was formed on October 11, 1998 and we have turned 25 this month. We shall persist in spreading a human rights culture in society with the certitude that a broad-based and truly independent human rights movement is desirable and possible,” HRF said, in a press statement released earlier today, October 3.

The locations in Andhra Pradesh subjected to raids are in Guntur, Palanadu, Vijayawada, Rajhmundry, Prakasam, Bapatla, Eluru, East Godawari, Dr B.R. Ambedkar Konasema, Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram, Nellore, Tirupati, Kadapa, Anantpur, and Kurnool districts. The NIA said that the nine locations in Telangana include districts of Hyderabad, Mahabubnagar, Hanumakonda, Ranga Reddy, and Adilabad. 

The investigation, first registered and handled by the local state police in 2020, was taken up by the NIA in 2021. Popularly known as the ‘Munchingiputtu case’, it deals with alleged movement of Maoists and the transportation of Maoist literature in a village of the Alluri Sitharama Raju district. The NIA has filed a chargesheet against seven persons in that case. 

One of the immediate causes for worry expressed by those raided is around the seizure of electronic devices. Most of them are lawyers and researchers and very heavily reliant on their electronic devices for their work. “Seizure of electronic devices including mobiles without even providing cloned copies to the owners amounts to immediate lack of access to precious work-related material and contacts. It leads to an overwhelming loss,” the HRF statement reads.

“To confiscate these devices in such a sudden manner results in a stunning dispossession. It is not only a deprival of valuable property of the functionaries concerned but also of their right to livelihood, privacy and human dignity.”