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Aarey Milk Colony, spread over 1,259 hectares of land, is an extension of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. In 1949, the land we know as Aarey was given to the Dairy Development Board of Maharashtra to shift the cattle sheds from the city to Aarey. Since then this area has been known as Aarey Milk Colony. Aarey has 27 tribal hamlets; in terms of flora and fauna, it has leopards and numerous species of birds, animals, insects, butterflies, snakes, herbs, shrubs and trees (which number more than 4 Lakh 80 thousand).

In November 2014 , morning walkers, cyclists and other regular visitors to Aarey Milk Colony found notices put up, announcing that 2298 trees in Aarey would be felled for construction of the carshed for Metro3. Citizens came together to protest against this mass felling of trees. Thus was born the Save Aarey Movement.

In December 2014 angry citizens for the first time gathered in Aarey Picnic Point area to protest against this unnecessary destruction of the city's ecology. 1200 + citizens came together again in February 2015, creating a human chain along Marine Drive. Post this event, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra announced appointment of an Expert Committee to explore other options for location of the Metro3 carshed .

The Expert Committee had 6 members; four Bureaucrats and two environmental experts from IIT and NEERI. Both the environmentalists put a dissenting note in the Committee's report, holding that Aarey is an ecologically sensitive area and rich in biodiversity. The proposed carshed location is the floodplain of the Mithi River, and construction in this area can lead to flooding in Andheri. Hence the carshed location should be shifted out of Aarey, they said .The other options for the carshed location suggested by the expert members were Kanjurmarg and Backbay in Colaba.

The Detailed Project Report prepared in 2011 for the Metro 3 Line also mentions three other options (along with the option of 33 ha land in Aarey) for the Metro 3 Carshed location: the ground in Bandra Kurla Complex, 26 Ha of land in Kalina, the Mahalaxmi Race Course. Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation ( MMRCL) always claims that the 33 ha land area in Aarey is the only suitable location for the Metro 3 Carshed.

In 2015 the NGO, Vanashakti, along with citizens, filed a petition in National Green Tribunal (NGT) praying that Aarey be declared a forest and an Eco-Sensitive Zone. NGT on 19th August 2015, ordered status quo in Aarey pending final decision on the case. MMRCL, in August 2017 started dumping debris in the Metro 3 Carshed area in Aarey, along with excavation and mud filling activities in the area. This was in contempt of Court orders and was highlighted at the NGT. On 14th May 2018, NGT again ordered against any dumping of debris, land reclamation and Tree Felling in Aarey pending final decision in the case. But MMRCL continues to violate court orders. They have cordoned off more area in Aarey on the opposite side of the carshed area and have started land reclamation. What initially started as destruction of 33 ha of forest land is now leading to destruction of a much bigger area. Citizens lodged complaints in Aarey Police Station against these violations of court orders. MMRCL has also evicted Adivasis from Prajapur Pada in Aarey to SRA Buildings. This is in violation with Tribal Rights. Adivasis have filed a petition in Mumbai High Court.

On 20th September 2018 Judges from NGT's Principal Bench decided that this matter of declaring Aarey a Forests does not come under NGT's jurisdiction and NGT directed the petitioners to withdraw application and approach the right Authorities. This has happened after 3 and 1/2 years long proceedings in National Green Tribunal.

Through an RTI in 2017, Vanashakti found a letter written by the Divisional Manager of Sanjay Gandhi National Park( SGNP). This letter indicates that Aarey Milk Colony was of a much larger area earlier, and that 2076 ha of land from Aarey Milk Colony was Transferred to SGNP in 1969. But the forest department claims that they do not have any land records related to Aarey Milk Colony.

The forest department, in 2015, had submitted a draft proposal to the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) to declare Aarey Milk Colony as an Eco Sensitive Zone. MMRCL moved an application with the MOEF and got 165 ha of land (1.65 sq km) from Aarey denotified from the Eco Sensitive Zone. The MOEF denotified an area of 1.65 sq km from the ESZ in December 2016. This decision has been challenged by Vanashakti in NGT through a different petition.

Already, a large part of Aarey Forest has been lost to different projects and construction activities. Citizens fear that with the entry of the Metro 3 carshed, better described as a railway service centre, the rest of this forest, spreading over 1259 ha, will be lost to construction activities for ever.

Mumbai City is already sinking because of the destruction of its water bodies, wetlands and mangroves. Loss of Forest area and destruction of the floodplain of the Mithi River in Aarey will lead to further destruction of the city and flooding in more new areas in Mumbai. Lakes , supplying drinking water to Mumbai are also located in Forest Areas. Vihar lake on the border of SGNP and Aarey.

The air quality of Mumbai will be seriously hit if 4000 full grown trees are removed from its last remaining green space,the Aarey forests. .

A Movement that started with the news of felling of 2298 trees has brought out more shocking details. MMRCL floated a tender document for felling of 3384 trees in Aarey Milk Colony in 2017. And number of trees that are in line for sacrifice is still increasing. Tribals have lost their homes and livelihood. Floodplain of Mithi River has been damaged and this city will finally lose 1.65 sq km of forest areas to construction activities if this Carshed is not shifted out of Aarey. Facts finding team of Citizens have also found letters that speak about Government granting 3 FSI on 33 ha (82.5 acres) of Aarey land. A design layout prepared by MMRCL for the Carshed area also has marked an area on 33 ha land for realestate prooject.

Citizens of Mumbai needs to decide what is more important for them. A peaceful and happy life in a place requires, Fresh Air, Good supply of Drinking water , accessible open spaces and flood free roads .

In a Costal city like Mumbai, when the entire world is suffering from the consequences of Global Warming a place like Aarey becomes extremely crucial for survival of the city.

Appeal to all to support the cause by signing and promoting the petition http://tinyurl.com/jk47wmf  The petition is about safety of Innocent people from Fire Hazard due to high scale corruption in Fire Dept and inaction as well as lethargy of Fire Dept. endangering lives of many innocent citizens.

To support and sign kindly open the link http://tinyurl.com/jk47wmf  

20.1.2017

To,

The Hon’ble Chief  Minister,
Shri Devendra Fadnavis,
Mantralaya, 6th Floor, Madame Cama Road,
Mumbai – 400032.
To
Municipal Commissioner,
BMC Head Office, Mahapalika Marg,
Mumbai – 400001.
To
Mumbai Police Commissioner,
T. Marg, Opp. Crawford Market,
Mumbai – 400002.

    Sub: Inaction by the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) of Mumbai Fire Brigade, Suburban Head Quarters, Marol Fire Station, Marol Naka, Mumbai, (and other officers) with regards to the illegal constructions done and subsequent fire at “Golden Chariot Restaurant” in “The Hub Mall”, Goregaon (East), Mumbai. (Hereinafter referred to as “said Restaurant” for sake of brevity), on 28.12.2016.

Sir / Madam,

  1. We, the undersigned, fully support this Petition created by the NGO – “Citizens Justice Forum” which is working in the public interest to protest against the inaction of the concerned officers against the said Restaurant which had grossly violated construction norms and thus had resulted in a big fire on 28.12.2016.
  1. It is highly regrettable that the authorities entrusted with the implementation of the Fire Safety norms have miserably failed to perform their duties which gave a liberty to a few devious persons to violate the law with impunity.
  1. The said Restaurant has been operating illegally since 2008 without the mandatory permissions from MCGM – the Bldg. and Factory Dept., Fire Department etc. On 16.1.2013 the Fire Brigade Department of the MCGM after inspection of the said restaurant, submitted a report to the CFO, notifying him about the gross violations and a demand to initiate penal action against the said Restaurant. (We annex a copy of the said letter as Exhibit “A” )
  1. CGM, Fire Department via letter dated 19.6.2014 once again notified the CFO about the various encroachments, construction in the fire exit area, deviation from the sanctioned plans and again recommended immediate action against the said Restaurant. (A copy of the said letter has been annexed and marked as Exhibit “B”).
  1. Again MCGM’s Fire Department via letter dated 14.11.14 submitted afresh complaint to the CFO highlighting the disobedience and defiance by the said restaurant and continuation of the various violations in spite of multiple notices. They also informed the CFO that the MOH and Fire Brigade Department have rejected the application for the trade license of the said Restaurant. Despite the repeated reminders by the MCGM’s Fire Department, the CFO chose not to take any action against the said Restaurant. This non-performance of the statutory duty by the CFO undeniably amounts to aiding and abetting unauthorized constructions and nexus with this law-breaker for possible illegal gratifications. ( A copy of the said letter has been annexed and marked as Exhibit “C”.)
  1. On 28.12.2016 at 12.20 p.m a major fire broke out in the said Restaurant which is situated on the second floor of the Hub Mall. Sweltering fire engulfed the said Restaurant and the people inside did not have any immediate access to any of the Fire Exits as the illegal alteration and construction had blocked all the exits of the said Restaurant. A major tragedy was thwarted due to the timely action of the six fire tenders pressed into service by the Fire Brigade department. The fire was quelled only in the evening and the incident was covered largely by the media also. ( A copy of the print media coverage on the above said incident is annexed and marked as Exhibit-“D”.)
  1. It is pertinent to note that even after the blaze on 28.12.2016, no action whatsoever has been initiated against the said Restaurant by the CFO nor an FIR has been lodged which is in contravention of the the Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measures Act, 2009.
  1. Furthermore, to add insult to injury, the said Restaurant is functioning as usual, posing a serious threat to the unwary patrons who may become victims to the manipulations and connivance of the authorities and the owners of the said Restaurant, in case a similar incident recurs, rendering their lives in peril.
  1. With great remorse it is submitted that if such delaying and colluding tactics are to be stopped, some stringent action has to be taken by ruthlessly demolishing the illegal constructions and alterations made by the said restaurant by following the due process of law.
  1. Eegretfully it has become a sort of a norm in our society that affluent persons can escape the clutches of law or twist the arm of law by some manipulation and greasing of palms. This norm must be proved wrong and a true meaning should be given to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. I hereby earnestly request you to inquire into this matter with urgency and issue directions to the concerned authorities to initiate appropriate action against the said restaurant at the earliest and not wait for another fatal fire incident to occur.
  2. The period to rectify and make necessary changes or to meet the compliance as per law is 120 days after giving the notice. But more than 120 days have lapsed and no compliance has been met till date under the Rules of Maharashtra Fire Prevention and Life Safety Measure Act, 2006. Under the latter Law there is a provision to start prosecution proceedings by lodging FIR regarding non- compliance of fire and life safety regulation by competent authority i.e. Mumbai fire Brigade. But Mumbai Fire Brigade failed to take any action for reasons best known to them. To the common man it would be appear to be for illegal gratifications.
  1. There should be Departmental Inquiry to probe the involvement of Fire Brigade staff, Asstt. Mun. Commissioner, Astt. Engr. (B&F), MoH etc. of MCGM’s P/South ward, Police Officers of Vanrai Police Station etc. These law-enforcers should be dealt strictly in accordance with the Service Rules,  Prevention of Corruption Act, IPC and other laws of the land and criminal proceeding should be initiated against them
  1. We would like to draw your attention to Section 10 of the Transfers and Delays Act 21 of 2006/ (64C of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act)which mandates that no decision can be kept pending for over 3 months. In the instant case, no action is initiated despite complaints being made from December 2015. So we request to conduct a preliminary enquiry to fix responsibility on the officers responsible for this delay and take appropriate disciplinary action against them. We request that the report of the enquiry may please be sent to us, furnished to the media and uploaded on the MCGM and Maharashtra Govt. website.
  1. We further wish to state that these concerned officers ( viz. the Mumbai Fore Brigade’s CFO, MoH, A.E. (B&F) of P/South ward, Sr. Police Inspector of Vanrai Police Station, concerned ACP and DCP etc. by their inaction on this gross illegality are violating the following provisions and attract punishment under :

IPC 217:   Public servant disobeying direction of law with intent to save person from punishment or property from forfeiture.

IPC 218:   Public servant framing incorrect record or writing with intent to save person from punishment or property from forfei­ture.

IPC 221:   Intentional omission to apprehend on the part of public servant bound to apprehend.

So we urge you to at least now take immediate suitable action to prevent similar tragedy and punish all the concerned officers who had connived to facilitate illegal construction which had resulted in this inferno.

We would appreciate if we are inform of the action taken on our above concerns  and the inquiry reports as and when they are completed.

 

Sincerely Yours

 

Sulaiman Bhimani

President
Citizens Justice Forum
+919323642081

Citizensjusticeforum@gmail.com

Copy of letter to CFO along withNotices attached requesting to take action against Golden chariot restaurant dated13th July 2015.

Copy Of letter to Vanrai Policestation and Asst Commissioner P/South ward to take action against GoldenChariot restaurant, dated 9th Jan 2015.

News Paper coverage

http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/mumbai-hub-mall-fire-brings-to-fore-irregularities-4449627/

http://www.mid-day.com/articles/mumbai-fire-in-goregaons-hub-mall-no-one-hurt/17867174

http://www.afternoondc.in/city-news/not-so-golden-this-chariot/article_184619

2

10th September, 2016, Cuttack: One is puzzled by the accounting treatment for Justice Indrajit Mahanty's Rs 2.5 crore working-capital loan for his hotel, The Triple C. Lakhs of rupees are withdrawn and repaid every month in two SBI loan accounts in the name of "Justice Indrajit Mahanty" and strangely, not in the name of Latest Generation Entertainment Pvt. Ltd., the company that has leased the hotel from him. As a High Court judge, Justice I. Mahanty gets a monthly salary of Rs. 1.35 lakhs, and therefore is liable to pay Income Tax. But repayment of principal plus interest could reduce or eliminate his taxable income. Suppose his tax returns are dodgy, can Income Tax authorities summon his lordship personally for questioning u/s 131 of Income Tax Act, and compel production of his lordship's books of account?

We asked Mr Binoy Gupta, a retired Chief Commissioner of Income Tax (CCA), who holds a Ph.D. in Law. His reply was: "There are no exemptions in any law for any Supreme Court or High Court Judges from any judicial or quasi judicial proceedings. Our department has taken action under the Income Tax Act against them."

We requested Mr Gupta for case studies (with or without the names of the judges) to substantiate his claim of having taken action against judges. His response was: "I can not give any instances today. But I stand by my statement that Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts have no special status so far the applicability of Income Tax Laws are concerned."

And then Mr Gupta added that bringing a judge to justice is a tough job. He wrote: "If any govt. servant engages himself in business, his department can and does take action. But the procedure for taking action against Judges is far too complex... impeachment which is extremely difficult."

Given the absence of case studies and other details of judges being held accountable by Income Tax authorities, our gut feeling is: IT authorities will never dare to summon his lordship, because (a) they would be in awe of a high court judge, and (b) because the high court has superior jurisdiction over the Income Tax department, and not vice versa. Even if judges do not enjoy de jure immunity from quasi-judicial and administrative authorities, they enjoy de facto immunity. No government official will risk rubbing a high court judge the wrong way by questioning him, even if the law permits him to do so!

Justice Indrajit Mahanty may or may not have broken any laws, but he is definitely in breach of the code of ethics on multiple counts. Must we all act like Gandhi's three monkeys and remain silent?

In return for such unquestioned authority and immunity, judges are expected to keep their affairs transparent and straightforward, by abstaining from business activities. Their income should ideally consist of their salaries, and interest on fixed deposits etc. -- nothing more complicated than that. To quote YK Sabharwal, former Chief Justice of India, who spoke on the Judicial Canon of Ethics, "Almost every public servant is governed by certain basic Code of Conduct which includes expectation that he shall maintain absolute integrity... manage his financial affairs in such a manner that he is always free from indebtedness, and not involve himself in transactions relating to property with persons having official dealings with him." Please note that seeking building permissions, bank loans, hotel licenses, etc. etc. are all transactions with the government, administration and public sector, who all have "official dealings" with a high court judge in his judge-like capacity. Such transactions adulterate the purity of Justice Indrajit Mahanty's judgment.

According to the Restatement of Values of Judicial Life (adopted by Full Bench of Supreme Court on7th May, 1997), "A Judge should not engage directly or indirectly in trade or business, either by himself or in association with any other person. 

And according to the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct, 2002, "A judge shall not only be free from inappropriate connections with, and influence by, the executive and legislative branches of government, but must also appear to a reasonable observer to be free therefrom."

Read all these documents on judicial ethics and in that context, understand the significance of Justice I Mahanty's actions. Justice Indrajit Mahanty may or may not have broken any laws, but he is definitely in breach of ethics on multiple counts.

So, must we all remain silent like Gandhiji's three monkeys? Must we all adopt a policy of See-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil when it comes to judges? Must the adulteration of our judicial services be allowed to continue under cover of a conspiracy of silence?

ISSUED IN PUBLIC INTEREST BY
Krishnaraj Rao
9821588114
krish.kkphoto@gmail.com

Posted By 
Sulaiman Bhimani 
9323642081 
sulaimanbhimani11@gmail.com 

2

Cuttack, 2nd September 2016: Justice Indrajit Mahanty became a judge of Orissa High Court in 2006, and he became a hotelier in 2009. Activist Jayanta Das broke the story on 8th August with documentary evidence given by judiciary whistleblowers. Kamyab TV, an Oriya TV channel, held a panel debate on this issue. In our press release issued three days ago, we asked whether it was ethical for any high court judge to be a businessman.

Justice I. Mahanty maintained a stony silence but on his behalf, the management of his hotel, The Triple C, issued a denial in The Indian Expresson the same day as our press release. The Triple C Hotel's press statement contradicts the signed affidavit of Justice I. Mahanty himself, and it actually makes this high court judge's actions look totally mysterious!

MYSTERY #1. The Indian Express story says, "A spokesperson of Latest Generation Entertainment Pvt Limited (LGPL), which entered into a 15-year pact with Justice Indrajit Mohanty, clarified that lease/rent agreement for “Triple C” was signed in August, 2007. Chartered Accountant of LGPL R Sharma said possession of the property was handed over to the company in 2009 and it has been running the hotel ever since. LGPL has been paying lease rental for the premises after accounting for the income tax." And later on, it says, "Besides, the accusations that working capital had been availed for running hotel were found to be untrue as neither LGPL nor Justice Mohanty had taken any. Instead, a term loan was secured in 2007 for construction of the building. Application for an additional term loan was made in 2009 which was approved later in the year by State Bank of India."

But this begs the question: Why is Justice Indrajit Mahanty servicing a working capital loan of Rs 2.5 cr from State Bank of India, which he took in his own name in February 2009? Read SBI's loan sanction letter issued on 16th Feb 2009 in the name of Justice Indrajit Mahanty himself (and not in the name of Latest Generation Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.) See below image:

Why is Justice Indrajit Mahanty servicing a working capital loan of Rs 2.5 cr from State Bank of India, which he took in his own name in February 2009? Read SBI's loan sanction letter issued on 16th Feb 2009 in the name of Justice Indrajit Mahanty himself (and not in the name of Latest Generation Entertainment Pvt. Ltd.)

Also, why is Justice I. Mahanty (and not the hotel management company) withdrawing and repaying lakhs of rupees every month? Read the bank statements showing drawals and repayments as recent as May 2015. See below image:

If not from The Triple C Hotel, from what source of income does Justice Indrajit Mahanty pay amounts like Rs 2 lakh every month? And if not for working capital of the hotel, for what purpose does Justice I. Mahanty withdraw lakhs of rupees every month? Will his lordship kindly clarify this?

If not from The Triple C Hotel, from what source of income does Justice Indrajit Mahanty pay amounts like Rs 2 lakh every month? And if not for working capital of the hotel, for what purpose does Justice I. Mahanty withdraw lakhs of rupees every month? Will his lordship kindly clarify this?

MYSTERY #2: The Indian Express story says: "Contrary to the allegations that Justice Mohanty got record of rights of the land in 2006, available documents revealed that the land on which the hotel is located was purchased on October 16, 1981 by Barrister Ranjit Mohanty for his son, Justice Mohanty."

In that case, did Justice Indrajit Mahanty tell a lie in his affidavit? Why did he state, "That I have obtained a plot of land by way of Court Decree from the Court of the Subordinate Judge, first Court, Cuttack, in Title Suit no. 297 of 1981" Why didn't he mention anything about purchase of land by his father Barrister Ranjit Mahanty? See below image:

Did Justice Indrajit Mahanty tell a lie in his affidavit? Why did he state, "That I have obtained a plot of land by way of Court Decree from the Court of the Subordinate Judge, first Court, Cuttack, in Title Suit no. 297 of 1981" Why didn't he mention anything about purchase of land by his father Barrister Ranjit Mahanty?

The Indian Express story concludes by saying: "Sharma said the attacks on the hotel are not only baseless but also motivated and have adversely affected its functioning."

Mr Sharma, do you really imagine that any of this is about the hotel? Oh come on, get real! It's not about The Triple C Hotel, and no, it's not about one over-privileged person named Indrajit Mahanty either. This is about the judiciary and its functioning, and the fundamental right of 1.3 billion citizens of India to be served by judges who are genuinely impartial and unbiased.

ISSUED IN PUBLIC INTEREST BY
Krishnaraj Rao
9821588114
krish.kkphoto@gmail.com

Posted By Sulaiman Bhimani

9323642081

sulaimanbhimani11@gmail.com

Bastar. An abstract name of some strange place where there is Naxalism. And therefore a place to be avoided, to be dreaded and mostly ignored. Not a land of a people who love, have children, earn livelihoods, make houses, sing, dance and celebrate. Not a land of everyday interpersonal conflicts, a tiff with a neighbour, a fight with the spouse. Not a land where children play, tease and bruise their knees. Not a land where people can dream of a future.

Just some dark hinterland, a version of Western World’s Africa right here in India.

I bring Bastar to light. Here.

Bastar is a district in Chhattisgarh. The total area is 4029.98 sq kms. It has a population of 1,411,614 humans (as per Census 2011). 70% of this population are Adivasis belonging to multiple tribes. Chhattisgarh has the 4th largest forest land in India with 44.21% of land cover. Many sections of Bastar are poorly developed with no pucca roads and few medical facilities. Traditionally, Adivasis have depended on forest products for their livelihood. In more recent times, agriculture is a mainstay for many.

There are four main issues that should concern us as regards Bastar: 1) Adivasi rights; 2) Rights of the forests; 3) The future of Bastar; and 4) Who speaks for whom?

Adivasi Rights

Way before Naxalism became active, Adivasis often found themselves on the wrong side of forest officers. These officers had been using their authority to make life difficult for Adivasis to continue with their livelihoods. There was intimidation, rampant corruption and frequent sexual abuse.

After the spread of Naxalism and the subsequent attempts of the State to crush their rise, the many failed strategies like Salwa Judum, the everyday Adivasi has become tainted as either a possible Naxalite or a police sympathizer. S/he is born into this taint, unable to make a choice to be apolitical or non-ideological. Nor even to question State or Naxalism. With state control over media and public opinion outside of Bastar, there is a lurking assumption that every Adivasi is indeed a potential Naxalite. Erased by birth, erased by residence.

What has, therefore, followed is dehumanization of Adivasis by clumping them under a label and reducing them to an object that needs to be controlled. And mansplainers are extremely good in explaining in their daddy-voices on how one can’t trust the locals, how Naxalism has infiltrated the community and that therefore State violence is the only way out.

But Adivasis are citizens of India. They are given the same constitutional rights as all of us. They are protected by the Constitution. And no matter what we opiniate, there cannot be a localised need-based convenient interpretation or occasional reference to law. It basically means they are afforded the same freedoms that we have taken for granted — like right to freedom, right against exploitation, right to constitutional remedies, right to life. They are afforded the same human rights guaranteed by The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations.

And yet time and again, irrespective of Government, it has been trampled in Bastar. For e.g. when Soni Sori, an Adivasi teacher spoke up in support of her nephew Lingaram Kodopi, a fearless talented journalist, she was arrested.  Cases were filed against her that led to arrest, torture and brutal sexual abuse. If it were not for the activists who followed up and publicized the gross human rights violation, we would have never heard of Soni Sori.  The courts have now cleared her of all the cases. She, in turn, has become a go-to-person who gives courage to women who have been exploited and sexually abused to speak up.

The question before us is why was she tortured? Even if for a moment we assumed she was a Naxalite, does that warrant sexual abuse and torture? Why were the Constitutional rights so openly flouted and yet key officers were not called to question?

Not only Soni Sori, but hundreds of other Adivasis have been wrongfully confined, false cases heaped on them and reports of torture have emerged from more than one place.

More recently, Bela Bhatia wrote about rampant rape of Adivasi women and random detention and assault of men in The Pegdapalli Files. This report is worth your time. For her efforts to expose the human rights violation, Bela Bhatia has been threatened and slandered.

Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG) that worked for the legal rights of Adivasis have been evicted. Journalists who reported on Constitutional violation of Adivasis rights to life, dignity and property have been silenced – either by intimidation or arrest. As the India Today long story “Life in the Red” shows, journalists are reporting under the shadow of fear.

In absence of activists and journalists, we will never hear the other side of the story, the one beyond what the State machinery wants us to know.

Soni Sori campaign
Soni Sori campaign

Rights of the Forests

Chhattisgarh boasts of some of the densest forest cover in India. It is also rich in minerals, rich in natural resources. But that forest cover is quickly being depleted. Between 2011 and 2013, there is reduction of 19 sq kms (1 sq km= 100 football fields) of forest area in Bastar district alone.

Whereas Forests cannot speak for themselves, we the Citizens should ask why the forests are being cut down indiscriminately. One of the major reasons is mining. The area is rich in minerals, coal and other natural resources. A second reason is movement of Adivasis in giving up traditional forest-dependent livelihoods in favour of clearing land for agriculture which is facilitated by the State. The third reason that is cited is to evict Naxalites from these forests.

Forests hold rich biodiversity. Forests protect landscape from erosion, from multiple natural disasters, and provide oxygen to the world. How is it that under our watch the forests are being cut down and there is not more than a whisper of dissent? Except that of locals and human rights groups like Amnesty India.

Who gains by cutting the forests? The locals or big mining corporations and their corrupt nexus with politicians?

Future of Bastar

Like it or not, Naxalism arose as a counter to the atrocities committed by rich landlords. If you read Hello Bastar by Rahul Pandita, you will know several stories of the horrifying crimes committed by the land-owning upper caste groups on landless. A systematic way in which groups of people were kept illiterate, under-developed, in poverty and complete dependence on the land-owning groups.

Like it or not, Naxalism empowered the marginalized, as Bela Bhatia said and I paraphrase, to name the crimes as injustice rather than fate. It is a different thing that Naxalism quickly veered into violence that consumed the very people they were fighting for. It pushed the locals into a state where they could no longer make choices, but remain in that uncertain diplomatic silence on issues.

So if we assume Mission 2016 will succeed and Naxalism will end, the question before is who will benefit from it? Will Adivasis regain rights over the land and rights to dignity? Will they have a voice in their own development and all issues that pertain to their district, to their community? Will they now begin to receive fair and just trials or will they be massacred as possible Naxalites? Will they be empowered to document injustice and successful get constitutionally-guaranteed remedies?

Or will it pave the path for multinational and big mining groups to set up shops, to make rich richer.

This is the question that we should ask. For Bastar deserves (as every land does) a prosperous, healthy and peaceful future. And the constitution guarantees that India is a democracy -- of the people, for the people, by the people. And Bastar is not an abstract name of a land, it is the breath of a people.

Who Speaks for Whom?

Why do activists speak? Is it because they have no other work to do? Are they mere noise makers disturbing the monolithic State narrative of what is happening on ground—the hurrays for the many surrenders of Maoists, the encounters that are supposed to have killed “dreaded” Naxalites, and the legitimacy of Mission 2016. Minus of course the erring journalists, the outspoken researchers, lawyers and activists. The manufacture of a public opinion -- that if you want to end Naxalism, it is given that there will be collaterals of a legitimate war, a.k.a ‘some’ Adivasis will die.

Democracy requires and is maintained by dissent. In a democracy, there can never be a single narrative. There are multiple truths jostling with each other for significance. A process that forces us to not move into easy judgments, but glimpse and empathise with the complex human lives caught in a complex web of power struggles.

And why should it concern those outside Bastar, in other words ‘us’? Don’t we all have own problems in life, our everyday struggles to make ends meet or aspirations to meet a dream? Don’t we have own interpersonal and organization conflicts to deal with?

Why should we? Because as Rahul Pandita had said in a tweet  in context of journalists and so have others, Chhattisgarh is a lab for brutal policies. You succeed in Chhattisgarh, you develop a formula, you set a precedent and then you can implement it in other parts of the country.

Then we must bring down this laboratory and return Bastar to the protection of our Constitution. Now. We have to ensure the protection, freedom of expression and dissent for local activists like Soni Sori and the many outspoken journalists of Bastar so that they, in turn, may stand up for their community.

There are three ways to support people of Bastar:

  1. Search for news on Bastar and please make yourself aware. Share news, talk about it, write about it.
  2. Follow human rights groups like Amnesty India or National Human Rights Commission and support them as needed.
  3. As a citizen, participate in the #OneMillionPostCardCampaign and send an e-card to Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Dr. Raman Singh asking him to bring CBI and Supreme Court to investigate matters that concern people of Bastar and Soni Sori. Let your voice be heard. http://goo.gl/forms/rvTT6CyHbI

Thank you for taking time to read this post fully. Bastar does need you!

Some information is referenced from Hello Bastar by Rahul Pandita.

Featured image by Pankaj Oudhia