Concerned Citizens Condemn Custodial Death of Undertrial Prisoner of Niyamgiri Region

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Bhubaneswar, August 26, 2019: We, concerned citizens and organisations in Odisha, are shocked and outraged at the death of Pattnaik Harijan, a resident of Rengapalli village, Lanjigarh block, Kalahandi district at the Burla Medical College Hospital while in the custody of Kalahandi jail authorities and administration.  He died on Friday, 23 August when he was brought from Bhawanipatna Jail with high fever. We are outraged that the jail authorities neither informed his family of his ill heath nor even when he was taken to the hospital in Burla, which is more than 200 kilometres from Bhawanipatna. Pattnaik Harijan, a daily wage labourer, is survived by his wife and five daughters.   He was the sole earning member of his family. His wife Manorama Harijan collapsed upon getting the news of his dead body being brought to the village after four months of imprisonment. She had to be hospitalised.

We, the undersigned, collectively assert that as long as the lives, well being  and dignity of all marginalised communities, especially Dalits, Adivasis and women, are not upheld there can be no real development or progress in Odisha.  The continuing repression on the people of the Niyamgiri region has to be brought to an immediate halt.

Forty-five-yearold Pattnaik Harijan was one of the 29 villagers arrested from the refinery plant area of Vedanta Aluminium Resources in Lanjigarh in the wake of the incidents that followed the death of Dani Batra and the security guard Sujit Minz on 18 March 2019. Till date, no proper investigation has taken place to bring to light the manner in which Dani Batra succumbed to injuries inflicted on him by the brutal lathicharge unleashed by the Odisha Industrial Security Forces (OISF).  Yet many random arrests have taken place in the case of the security guard Sujit Minz whose dead body was found completely burnt with his feet tied with a wire in the premises of the refinery plant.   In an FIR registered by the Lanjigarh police, 22 persons were named along with 300 “others” in events that led to the death of the security guard Sujit Minz. Many villagers remained in hiding in the jungles for fear of arrest.  Then, 29 were arrested as per case No. 15/2019. Pattnaik Harijan, arrested on 2 May long with some others, had been booked under serious offences such as sections 147, 148, 149, 332, 353, 436, 302, 307, 427, 450,  and 506 of the IPC and Sec 27 of the Arms Act too.  However, there has been no follow up on the death of Dani Batra and the deadly lathi charge by the OISF that killed him and injured 50 villagers. 

We are concerned that not only is there complete lack of concern by the district administration for the well being and safety of people of Lanjigarh area, but there is also wilful negligence leading to dire consequences as is evident in this incident of a death in jail custody.  It is shocking to get reports about the  free play of company agents in offering compensation to the wife of Dani Batra as well as legal and financial help for anticipatory bail for those fearing arrests. The state govt at the behest of the company has withdrawn from its constitutional responsibility and the reign of the company has substituted the systems, which is deplorable.  

The district administration pro actively mediated in making the company pay 10.5 lakhs rupees to the family of the deceased as a measure of quelling the protests in the area around the plant.  In this manner, the administration completely escapes any responsibility of the custodial death. And along with the company has put an end to the protest by arranging the compensation. Indeed, this is a serious compromise as people’s safety and constitutional rights are mediated by corporate intervention and not the elected government.

The terror and intimidation of the people of these villages around the refinery plant continues till date. In this manner, they are hastening the process of emptying these villages where the extension of the red mud pond is causing vast ecological damage to lives of people and the entire habitat. We are concerned for the safety of the villagers while the area is under Section 144 now. We fear the health and well being of those in jail too. To put an end to the chaos unleashed in the region, we demand:

  • A judicial enquiry into the death of Pattnaik Harijan and the negligence caused by the authorities of Bhawanipatna jail and district administration. 
  • All erring officials need to be given due punishment for their acts of negligence leading to the death of Pattnaik Harijan.
  • Compensation of Rs 50 lakhs be given to the family of the deceased for the economic rehabilitation of the family. 
  • Withdrawal of all cases against those who are still in jail.
  • A probe into the death of Dani Batra on 18 March and arrest of OISF personnel and company officials. 
  • Withdrawal of CRPF forces from the entire Niyamgiri region.

Biswapriya Kanungo, Advocate, Bhubaneswar
Purna Pradhan, Advocate, Bhawanipatna 
Satyabadi  Naik, Advocate, Bhawanipatna
Ranjana Padhi,  Social Activist, Bhubaneswar
Surya Shankar Dash, Film Maker and Activist, Bhubaneswar
Pramodini Pradhan, PUCL, Odisha
Sudhir Pattnaik, Social Activist, Bhubaneswar
Radhakant Sethi, All India People’s Forum, Bhubaneswar
Srikant Mohanty, Chaasi Mulia Sangha (AIKMS), Odisha
Sivaram,  Odisha State Secretary, CPI (ML) Red Star
Prashant Paikrai, Spokesperson, PPSS
Srimanto Mohanty, Political Activist, Bhubaneswar
Narendra Mohanty, Campaign against False and Fabricated Cases, Bhubaneswar
Abhiram Mallick, Mulniwasi Samata Parishad, Odisha
Sujata Sahni, Poet and Activist, Bhubaneswar
Saroj Mohanty, Anwesha, Sambalpur
Dr. Biswajit Roy, Gandhi Peace Foundation, Cuttack.
Swati Mishra, ISCUF, Bhubaneswar
Pramila Behera,  Basti Suraksha Manch, Bhubaneswar
Debaranjan, Ganatantrik Adhikar Surakshya Sangathan (GASS), Bhubaneswar
Lenin Kumar, Poet and Activist, Bhubaneswar,
Gargi  Satapathy, Journalist, Sambalpur
Sharanya Nayak, WSS, Koraput
Shankar Sahu, All India Krantikari Krushak Sabha, Berhampur

This statement has been only edited for style.

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