New Delhi: In a series of orders by the Odisha Human Rights Commission (OHRC), the quasi-judicial body has indicted the state police in several cases for human rights violations. As per the orders accessed by The Wire, earlier this month the commission has ruled against the state police in at least three cases related to encounter and illegal detention.
‘Tribal youth killed in operation was not a Maoist’
In an order dated November 10, the commission while deciding the case of tribal youth Manda Kadraka, who was killed in a joint operation by the state police and the Border Security Force (BSF) notes, “There is no iota of evidence brought before us to come to a conclusion that the deceased has hatched a conspiracy to kill the superintendent of police and the collector, nor there is anything to show that the deceased was ever indulged in Naxalite [Maoist] activities in the village itself.”
The incident had occurred in February 2016 in a forest area near Dangamatia village of Kalyansinghpur block in Rayagada district of the state. The commission order further said, “So, taking all the aspects into consideration, it cannot be said that the deceased was part of the Maoist group but the conclusion can be that he has been deprived of his life and liberty without following the procedure of law.” Moreover, the OHRC has also recommended the state government to pay a sum of Rs 1,50,000 as compensation to the next of kin of the deceased.
However, the police still claim that the deceased was a Maoist. “It was not a fake encounter. According to our procedure, we had sent a report to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) about the exchange of fire. The NHRC had acknowledged our operation and said the exchange of fire was genuine. Three police officers of Rayagada had also received the President’s police medal for gallantry for the successful anti-Maoist operation,” a senior police officer told the Times of India.
‘Act of Police Officer amounts to major violation of human rights’
In another case of human rights violation, the commission, in its order dated November 9, noted “The act of the Police Officer, in our opinion, amounts to major violation of human rights and misutilisation of power and for these Police Officers the public confidence in police is weakened. The materials available on the record is enough to safely presume that this confession has been extracted by violent means.” The OHRC while recommending the compensation to the victims further notes, “These types of indecorous officers. in our opinion, are unbecoming to a dignified and disciplined force and are bad examples.”
The commission has recommended payment of compensation of Rs 2,50,000 to each of the victims, namely, Halu Gurla and Raghab Naik. It has further recommended that the total compensation amount (Rupees five lakhs) be recovered from the salary of police officer Prakash Kumar Karna. The order also notes that “We have no hesitation to conclude that the SDPO, Shri L.N. Panda while supervising the case has been negligent.”
On December 7, 2016, one Jitu Dandasena of Piplipali village within Paikamal Police Station in the District of Bargarh of the state had gone missing. In the course of the investigation, the police arrested two persons, namely, Halu and Gurla and Raghab Naik of Bargarh town on December 24 that year on the charges of murder and destruction of evidence. However, two years after they were arrested and charged for murder, Jitu returned home.
Coming down heavily on the police, the order said, “a living person has been declared dead due to lackadaisical attitude of the Investigating Officer and obtaining confessional statement under coercion with threat amounts to gross violation of human rights which has also brought mental agony and trauma so also social dissociation as well as mental trauma to the family whose son declared to be killed though he is alive. That too this is a case of very serious in nature as in case of conviction, the persons could have been served with capital punishment, if the missing person had not surfaced early for which they pray for compensation as well as appropriate action against the police personnel entrusted with the investigation.”
The commission has further recommended that the state government shall make a provision for training of officers on human rights. “A course on human rights, human psychology and behavioural aspect because day-by-day misbehaviour, custodial torture and custodial deaths are increasing. The officers be trained for one month at least on human rights,” noted the order by the OHRC.
Found guilty of custodial violence, two year ban on field duty
Similarly, in its order dated November 9, the OHRC has found police officer Sandhyarnai Jena guilty of custodial violence. Concluding that Jena is guilty of custodial violence, the commission recommended that she should not be given any field duty nor be posted to any police station for a period of two years. Moreover, she should be sent for training “as to how to deal with the accused persons and in the typical situations.”
According to local news reports, Jena had come under the scanner earlier this year when a video of her severely thrashing a youth in the Patana PS in Keonjhar district on March 25 with a lathi went viral on social media. A probe was ordered into the incident by the local SP. Following media reports, the OHRC on May 19 had directed the state government to deduct Rs 10,000 from her salary and pay it as compensation to the victim.
She had challenged the commission’s order for compensation in the high court in May but the court cited that it was not appropriate to directly interfere with the order of OHRC and asked her to submit a response to the commission. As per a report on May 23, the state police had placed Jena under suspension for her misconduct, video of which had gone viral on social media. She is still under suspension.
OHRC asks cop to pay Rs 2 lakh for illegal detention
In another case of human rights violation, the commission has asked the state government to pay Rs 2 lakh compensation to a man, who was illegally detained. According to a report by the Times of India, the commission also asked the government to recover the compensation amount from the salary of Rajib Kumar Behera, the former SI of Aska police station.
On May 22, 2013, the OHRC received a complaint from a woman, identified as Minakshi Pattnaik, alleging that Aska police in Ganjam district raided her house at 2 am on May 5, 2013, in her absence and forcibly dragged her husband Purna Chandra to the police station. According to the complainant despite her husband not being involved in any case, the police detained him at the police station and tortured him. The police had admitted that Purna Chandra was taken to the police station but was released the next morning.
“The police are guilty of trying to flout the law. They should not have forced their entry into her home to arrest her at 2 am. Had she been arrested that time, it would have been termed as an illegal arrest. Even though her husband was not booked in any case, the police illegally took him to the police station and released him next morning. This was a gross violation of human rights and dignity,” the order said.
The commission said the state government should pay Rs 2 lakh to Purna Chandra and the money be recovered from Behera, who is now an inspector with vigilance in Berhampur. The OHRC also found fault with Bichitrananda Samal, who was then the inspector-in-charge of Aska police station. “Samal told us that he was unaware of the raid at the woman accused’s home at 2 am and detention of her husband. But his statement is hard to believe,” the commission reportedly said.
The commission becomes headless again
While welcoming these orders, Bhubaneswar-based lawyer and east-zone coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders Alert India (HRDA) Chandranath Dani told The Wire, “These orders are very important and must be appreciated.” However, he was quick to add that “what is equally worrying is that with the retirement of OHRC chairperson Justice Bimala Prasad Das it is likely that the commision will become once again defunct.”
It can be noted that these judgements indicting police officials were authored by Justice Das and Commission member Asim Amitabh Dash. And with the retirement of the chairperson on November 14, the commission has once again become headless. As per a report by the Orissa Post, the government had appointed Justice Das as the chairperson of the OHRC’s three-member panel in 2019 after the Orissa high court directed it to fill up all vacant posts including that of the chairperson’s. The post had remained vacant for more than seven years after the retirement of Justice R.K. Patra in 2012.
“The government, despite knowing the date of retirement of the chairperson, has failed to take any steps regarding the appointment of a new chairperson. It has not appointed any member as acting chairperson too. No hearing could take place in the absence of a chairperson or acting chairperson,” rights activist Pradipta Kumar Nayak told Orissa Post.
As per media reports, the government is yet to issue a notification for the appointment of an acting chairperson from among the two members till the announcement of a regular chairperson. According to the data available on OHRC ‘s official website, 14,887 cases were pending before the commission at the end of last month, of which 421 were registered in October alone. A total of 130 cases were disposed off last month, only 27 of them were with any direction.
Note: This article has been updated since publication to include details of the OHRC’s case disposals.