Tuesday, January 01, 2008

What is the Orissa Government trying to hide?

A five member Fact Finding Team that had gone to the Phulbani area of Kandhamal district in Orissa on Saturday, 29th December 2007, was forcibly expelled by Inspector General of Police Pradeep Kapoor.

What exactly is the State Government trying to hide?

Meawhile, the Fact Finding team was able to establish that, among other structures, the School of Social Work set up by Member of Parliament Dr. R K Nayak suffered extensive damage.

Here is the message from Mr Dayal:


I report with deep sorrow and anguish that I and a five member Fact
Finding Team that had gone to the Phulbani area of Kandhamal district
on Saturday, 29th December 2007, was forcibly expelled by Inspector
General of Police Pradeep Kapoor who ordered the Phulbani Town Police
Inspector to ensure that I left the district that night. The Town
Police Inspector then made us follow an armed police escort for a one
and a half hour drive through the night darkness till we reached the
border of Ganjam district, where he left us. We could return to
Bhubaneswar by 4 am today, 30th December 2007, deeply distressed and
feeling very frustrated with the experience.

The fact finding team was set up at a meeting of activists in the
Swasti Hotel in Bhubaneswar on 28th December 2007 to get an authentic
first hand account of the developments and the violence in the
Kandhamal district because rumours, absence of authentic media reports
and often inaccurate government accounts of the casualties, had left
the people confused. There were also fears that lack of authentic
information would impact on the confidence building measures and the
peace process. I was requested to lead the Fact Finding Team in view
of my experience in Gujarat, Nandigram, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh,
Rajasthan the North east.

As a matter of abundant precaution, I wrote to the Director General of
Police, Orissa, on 28th December 2007. I, inter alia, said "I am a
Member of the National Integration Council, Government of India, and
the National President of the All India Catholic Union. I am part of a
Fact Finding team set up by Civil society and Human Rights groups to
assess the situation in the violence affected areas of Orissa for us
to be able to formulate People's initiative for confidence building
and peace. The team, consisting of six persons including me, intends
to leave Bhubaneswar on the morning of 29th December 2007 and return
in the evening of 31 December 2007. We will have a night halt in
Phulbani. We will appreciate any assistance and facilitation we can
get from the Orissa Police and in particular from the Police forces of
the District. I am sure your office will take the necessary steps, and
inform the District Police of the area."

We drove to Phulbani on 29th December; reaching safely and without any
problems, by about 5 p.m. En route we were able to assess the damage
done to the NISWAS School of Social Work set up by Dr. R K Nayak, IAS
retired and currently a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha. We also saw
the damage done to the Carmelite Convent and the Carmel English
School. Nuns we interviewed told us how attempts were made to set the
convent on fire even as the Nuns were cowering in a room where they
had locked themselves in. Two sisters who could escape injured
themselves in the process.
Later, we went to the Offices of the Police Superintendent to discuss
with them our onward journey to Balliguda that evening or early next
morning, and to see if here was need for Curfew Passes, which are
normally given to Media and other groups.
The Inspector General of Police, Mr Kapoor, the Divisional
Commissioner and the Deputy Inspector General of Police were present
in the room. I was questioned in some detail, always very politely, by
Mr Kapoor who wanted to know about my membership of the NIC, my
credentials as a journalist and the books I had authored. He also
photographed my colleagues and me with his Mobile Telephone camera. I
gave a patent reply to every single question. I also pointed out that
this was not a government enquiry, but that I would prepare a report I
would submit to the authorities and which would also help facilitate
the National Minority Commission members who are scheduled to visit
the spot on 6th January 2008. I reminded the police were a peaceful
group, and our team included an Advocate, apart from interpreters and
with expertise in ethnic studies.
Mr Kapoor was ever polite, but remained adamant. My colleagues felt
hey were being interrogated in a police station.
Mr Kapoor said he would not allow me to proceed, or even to remain in
Phulbani. He said it would not be safe for me, or for the persons with
whom I would stay. He said the Rapid Action Force had been deployed in
Phulbani town and I had to draw my inference from this fact about the
situation and tension in the place. I told him there was no way we
would be crashing police barriers. It was not for fear of our lives
but in deference to the rule of law that we would go. He was
apparently not satisfied. He called the Phulbani police officers and
ordered them to escort me out.
The Kandhamal region needs not just media coverage and government
relief operations. The rescue, relief and rehabilitation programme has
to be done in a transparent manner. Already there have been too many
complaints of police and administrative apathy, complicity and even
aggressive force against one community, the victim community.
Independent fact finding teams and the information they give help in
maintaining transparency and positively contribute to the peace

I hope we will be able to visit and record the situation in every
affected village as an important part of building long term peace,
harmony and in ensuring relief, compensation and rehabilitation

John Dayal (dated 31 December 2007) Sphere: Related Content

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