We, the undersigned, are shocked by the serial raids across the country on the homes of activists and public intellectuals who are critical of the government and the ruling party at the Centre. The arrests of prominent activists and intellectuals Sudha Bharadwaj, Vernon Gonsalves, Gautam Navlakha, Varavara Rao, Arun Ferreira, Kranthi Tekula and others, are nothing but an attempt by the government to strike terror among those who are fighting for justice for the marginalised. This is also an attempt by the BJP to invent a false enemy and engage in scaremongering in order to polarise the 2019 elections in its favour. Already, the government and the media houses close to the BJP have been trying to spin a false narrative of a Maoist conspiracy since June, 2018. Terms like “urban naxals” are invented in order to stifle any criticism of the government. We have learnt that the Delhi Police, after having arrested Sudha Bharadwaj, waited for Republic TV to arrive before taking her to the court. This simply shows that the arrests are incomplete without the accompanying sensationalist media propaganda to demonise activists, human rights defenders and intellectuals.
The so-called raids carried out on the houses of these activists are aimed at creating a spectacle, as the writings and views of these intellectuals are already publicly known and are well documented. This seems like a conspiracy to divert attention from the gravity of the Sanatan Sanstha conspiracy to carry out serial bomb attacks on Eid and Ganesh Chaturthi! The same Sanatan Sanstha was also involved in the murder of Gauri Lankesh, as per the ongoing investigations by Karnataka police. Today’s arrests have been carried out in order to give cover to the murderers of Gauri Lankesh. People like Sudha Bharadwaj, Gautam Navlakha and others who have been arrested are friends of the people who have dedicated their entire lives to the betterment of the Indian public. By arresting them, the BJP is only exposing its insecurities and its intolerance to any dissent or criticism of its policies.
The arrests should be seen in continuation with the recent attacks on pro-justice voices such as Swami Agnivesh, Umar Khalid and many other student activists from Delhi to Lucknow. A BJP lawmaker from Karnataka even advocated the murder of “intellectuals.” Both the arrests and the physical attacks on justice loving people must be seen in a series of attempts to stifle dissent and deny social justice.
We demand immediate release of the arrested individuals, dropping of all false and malicious charges, as these arrests are politically motivated and unjustified.
Shehla Rashid Shora, former Vice-President, JNU Students’ Union.
Mohit Pandey, former President, JNU Students’ Union.
Visiting Professor, National Law University Delhi and National Secretary, Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties
I have been informed that Republic TV aired a programme on 4 July 2018, presented by anchor and MD Arnab Goswami as “Super Exclusive Breaking News”.
The programme, which is being repeatedly shown, contains a long list of ridiculous, scurrilous, false and completely unsubstantiated allegations against me. Goswami has claimed that I have written a letter (identifying myself as “Comrade Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj”) to a Maoist – one “Comrade Prakash” - stating that a “Kashmir like situation” has to be created. I am also accused of having received money from Maoists. I am also said to have confirmed that various advocates, some of whom I know as excellent human rights lawyers and others whom I do not know at all, had some sort of Maoist link.
I firmly and categorically deny that the letter referred to by Goswami – if at all such a document exists - has ever been written by me. I firmly refute all the allegations that the Republic TV has made against me, defaming me, causing me professional and personal injury. In its programme, the Republic TV has not revealed the source of such a letter. I find it curious that a document purporting to contain evidence of such serious crimes should first surface in the studio of Arnab Goswami.
I have been a dedicated trade unionist since the past 30 years, working in the organisation of the late legendary Shankar Guha Niyogi, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, in the working class shanties of Dalli Rajhara and Bhilai, and hundreds of workers are witness to the fact. As a part of my work as a trade unionist I became a lawyer in the year 2000 since when I have fought scores of cases of workers, farmers, adivasis and poor people in the fields of labour, land acquisition, forest rights and environmental rights. Since the year 2007 I am practising in the High Court of Chhattisgarh at Bilaspur and was nominated by the High Court to be a member of the Chhattisgarh State Legal Services Authority. In the last year I have been teaching at the National Law University Delhi in the capacity of a Visiting Professor, where I offered a seminar course on tribal rights and land acquisition; and a part of the regular course on law and poverty. As a part of the programme of the Delhi Judicial Academy, I addressed the presiding officers of labour courts from Sri Lanka. My pro-people positions and work as a human rights lawyer are a matter of public record. I am perfectly aware that they stand in direct opposition to the views so loudly and frequently expressed by Arnab Goswami and Republic TV.
In my opinion the present malicious, motivated and fabricated attack on me is because I recently addressed a press conference in Delhi to condemn the arrest on 6 June of Advocate Surendra Gadling. The Indian Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL), an organisation of lawyers has also strongly taken up the issue of other lawyers such as Advocate Chandrashekhar of Bhim Army and Advocate Vachinathan arrested after the Sterlite firing. It is clear that in targeting such lawyers, the state is trying to silence those who stand for the democratic rights of citizens. The state strategy is to create a chilling effect and deny equitable access to the legal system. Also very recently the IAPL had organised a fact finding into the difficulties faced by lawyers in Kashmir.
As a human rights lawyer I have appeared in cases of habeas corpus and fake encounters of adivasis in the High Court of Chhattisgarh and also made representations to the National Human Rights Commission in the defence of many human rights defenders. Recently the NHRC had sought my assistance in investigating a case in Village Kondasawali ( Sukma, Chhattisgarh). In all these cases I have acted with the professional integrity and courage expected of a human rights lawyer. This indeed appears to be “my crime” which has earned me the super exclusive attentions of Arnab Goswami.
I have asked my lawyer to send a legal notice to Arnab Goswami and Republic TV for their false, malicious and defamatory allegations against me.
Background- Cantonments & Military Stations in India
Cantonments derive their name from Swiss Cantons, or districts and were set up by the British in India for entirely different reasons. When the British troops arrived in India, they fell sick very often due to malaria, dysentery and other infectious and waterborne diseases. These diseases also took a toll on Indian troops. Thus it was decided to create Army cantonments well away from cities, often in the wilderness, at the very outskirts of city limits. The additional advantage of such a move was that parades, training and marches with horse’s, mules etc would not inconvenience the local population. It also helped in keeping the native soldiers isolated from the local developments, thereby ensuring their apolitical character.
It is to the credit of the Army that these outlying areas where they were shunted away, became islands of excellence and oasis of greenery; the modern equivalent of smart cities. Today, they are the lungs and biodiversity havens of most cities.
The first cantonment was established in Barrackpore in 1765 and the last one created recently was Ajmer. There are a total of 62 cantonments, mostly in Central and Western Command. These are distinct from military stations which number about 2000 and are exclusive for the army. The current order on road opening thankfully does not apply to military stations.
The Army is fully considerate of the needs of the Nation and has not only allowed access to cantonments but also given away prime defence land for public good. The Delhi metro link from Dhaula Kuan in New Delhi going to the airport is entirely built on defence land given by the army. So is the Dwarka flyover coming to Palam and beyond. The new road to airport in Hyderabad and Chennai has been given access through defence land. Cantonments have also parted with hundreds of acres of land to expand airports in places like Gwalior and many more.
While Cantonment roads leading to civilian areas have always been open to public, however, internal roads where military units, installations & HQ are located cannot be declared public roads & thrown open to everyone without ensuring mandatory security checks.
Military areas of Cantonments have been defined as Prohibited areas & are not under cCantonments Board
Administration of Defence Land in Military Cantonments is governed by the Cantonment Land Administration Rules (CLAR) 1937. These have been notified by Govt on the authority of powers conferred upon it underCantonments Act. Though the Cantonments Act 2006 has now replaced earlier Cantonments Act 1924, the CLAR have remained unchanged. Section 4 of CLAR defines Classification of Cantonment Lands. Class A & B Lands which are required for Military purposes are not vested with Cantonment Boards. Cantonment Boards are vested with Class C Lands which mainly comprise of civilian areas/ non-military areas. Hence, Cantonment Boards govern only those areas of Cantonment which are located on Class C Lands.
On the other hand, Class A & B Lands are governed by Military Authorities in accordance with provisions contained in Officials Secrets Act & Defence Services Regulations. As per Section 2(8)(a) of Official Secrets Act 1923, all Military areas/ establishments fall under the category of Prohibited places.
Trespassing/entering into Prohibited areas without valid Identity & Purpose is a criminal offence under Section 3 & 5 of Officials Secrets Act. It is punishable under CrPC, as clarified in Section 12 of OS Act.
Armed Forces are empowered under Officials Secrets Act 1923
Armed Forces personnel have been empowered under Sections 7& 8 of OS Act 1923 to implement the security provisions in Military areas as applicable to Prohibited areas. Interfering with members of Armed Forces while implementing provisions of Officials Secret Act is a punishable offence under Section 7 & 8 of said Act.
Procedure to be adopted for Security of Military areas/establishments/ installations
Procedure to be adopted by Armed Forces personnel for ensuring security of military areas/ installations has been prescribed by Govt in Paras 1160, 1161 & Appendix AD of Defence Services Regulations 1987 (Revised). Armed Forces are empowered to establish check posts, barriers etc & ascertain identity of visitors before allowing them entry into military areas of Cantonments. Relevant extracts from DSR are placed below.
Court Judgements upholding authority of Armed Forces over military areas of Cantonments
The legal validity of CLAR 1937, inapplicability of Cantonments Board Act 2006 over military areas, applicability of Officials Secrets Act 1923 over military areas & the applicability of authority of Armed Forces over military areas of Cantonments has been unambiguously upheld by a Bench of Andhra Pradesh High Court in its Judgement dated 26 September 2014. AP High Court had ruled on a collection of writ petitions and PILs against the closure of the 14 roads in Secunderabad Cantonment mentioned by the Defence Minister. Dismissing all the petitions, the Hon’ble High Court had ruled that these closures were valid and within defined powers of the Military authorities. On the other hand, it took cognisance of the fact that petitioners wanted to use these roads “for convenience or because of their better motorability”, a matter that “required immediate attention of the civilian authorities” who should “take expeditious steps to improve the alternate roads so that ordinary people are not subject to any inconvenience.” It further stated that “the army authorities have imposed restrictions in a phased manner and such decision cannot be held as one made in an arbitrary manner.” Since the Cantonment Act of 2006 is cited in above judgement, it is clear that the ruling did not consider any irregularity vis a vis the same. It’s on the strength of this Judgement that the 14 roads had been closed in Secunderabad despite orders by MoD.
Illegal settlements/ colonies/ structures adjacent to military installations
As per Section 7 of Works of Defence Act 1903, constructions are prohibited upto a specified distance from perimeter of notified Defence installations for security considerations. However, over the years, a huge number of illegal settlements/ structures have come up in notified areas. Though the Cantonments were originally set up away from habitation, these have now become prime locations due to growth of towns/ cities around them. Many of the illegal settlements/ structures belong to politically influential people. The case in point is ongoing construction of illegal structure on the land acquired by ruling Party leader in Nagrota in J&K next to ammunition dump, despite objections by Army.
Encroachment of Defence Land
Presently over 11,000 acres of Defence Land is under illegal encroachments. Total value of encroached land runs in thousands of crores of rupees. Most of these encroachers have links with political parties/ political personalities. State wise details of encroachments as informed to Parliament in August 2014 are given below:-
Illegal occupation/ conversion of Grand Old Bungalows (OGB)
There are 2724 OGBs whose lease period has already expired. The lease holders were barred from carrying out any additions/alterations/conversions. However, most of these have been converted into commercial establishments, hotels, including shopping malls. Most of these have changed many hands and are presently in the hands of influential political/ business personalities. Despite Hon’ble SC ruling in May 2014 clearing all legal hurdles for reclaiming all OGBs, officials with vested interests in Govt have not allowed taking over of these Bungalows till date. Resumption sanction has been accorded only in 660 cases, of which only 508 have been physically Resumed till date.
Loss of Revenue due to Non Renewal of Lease
There are number of Govt properties on Defence land which are on lease for commercial/ recreational/ residential purposes. The lease deed of these properties has not been renewed for decades deliberately by DGDE Officials. In addition, there are numerous properties which are without any lease agreement. All this has been resulting in huge annual revenue loss to Govt, running in thousands of crores. In Delhi alone, this loss amounts to hundreds of crores annually.
Who is Responsible for Encroachments, Loss of Revenue & Gross Mismanagement of Defence Land & Defence Properties
Over 99% of cases of encroachments, loss of revenue & mismanagement of Defence Land pertains to Class B/ C Lands. As per CLAR 1937 & Cantonments Board Act 2006, DG Defence Estates (DGDE) is responsible for management of these Lands/ properties. Encroachments & Mismanagement of Defence Lands has been well documented in annual CAG Reports. However, encroachments & mismanagement cases have only been increasing with each passing year. Relevant Extracts from CAG Reports are placed below.
How serious is the nexus between DGDE, MoD Officials & Encroachers
Unable to control encroachments, Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) was tasked in 2010 to carry out a systems study & detailed analysis of management of Defence Lands. CGDA in its Report concluded that there is deep nexus between DGDE Officials and encroachers & that this nexus has become so entrenched that it is not possible to break free. It has resulted in systematic loot of Govt land. It found DGDE failing in all four of its functions- audit, accounting, acquisition & financial management. Hence, CGDA recommended for disbandment of DGDE & prosecution of its officials.
Events leading to current illegal orders by MoD
While CGDA recommended prosecution of DGDE officials & disbandment of DGDE in 2010, nothing actually happened on ground due to their nexus with MoD officials. As a result, encroachments kept increasing & Govt coffers kept bleeding of its revenue. In May 2014, Hon’ble SC delivered a historic judgement related to Old Grand Bungalows, paving way for Govt to reclaim all 2724 OGBs. The present occupants of these Bungalows include MPs, MLAs (from all parties), civil servants & prominent businessmen. In Sep 2014, Hon’ble High Court of Andhra Pradesh delivered another Judgement, clarifying that jurisdiction of Cantonment Board does not extent to military areas of Cantonments & that LMA is empowered to close roads in military areas. The Court directed State Govt to provide alternate roads to civil population. In the same year the issue of encroachment of Defence Land was raised in Parliament. In a written reply to Lok Sabha MP Poonam Mahajan in August 2014, then Defence Minister Arun Jaitley admitted that around 11,455 acres of defence land had been encroached. Following these reports, Common Cause, an NGO based out of Delhi, along with Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), filed a petition in the Supreme Court concerning the unauthorised use and encroachment of defence land. The petition alleged that “crass mismanagement of Defence lands is intrinsically linked to irregularities, illegalities and corruption”. The petition relied heavily on CAG reports, and is still sub judice. The last order passed by the Court was on August 25, 2017.
Hidden Agenda behind Opening of Internal Cantonment Roads
Instead of implementing the SC Judgement for reclaiming OGBs & AP High Court Judgement for creating alternate routes, the local MPs of Cantonment areas built an alliance of interest with local representatives of areas adjoining the 62 cantonments. This group seems to have started the whole discussion de novo once Ms Sitharaman was appointed the Defence Minister. She & her husband are known to own residential & commercial properties around Hyderabad-Secunderabad Cantonments.
The Local Military Authorities (LMAs) have been regularly raising these issues. The market value of encroached land & properties runs in hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees. However, corruption is so deep rooted in Defence Estates & MoD that, instead of implementing Court Judgements, these Officials by using their powerful nexus have now been able to force the Govt to give them overriding powers thereby making the LMAs irrelevant. Unrestricted opening of Cantonments roads is one such decision pushed by these Officials at the behest of encroachers & illegal occupiers of Defence land & Defence properties to facilitate their consolidation. National security considerations matter least to these looters of Govt land. This is likely to further facilitate encroachments & consolidation illegally occupied properties. See the details of parleys held by RM with these eople without involvement of Military Authorities.
Illegality of Orders by RM
The Orders by RM are in contravention to provisions of Official Secrets Act, Cantonments Act, CLAR & Defence Services Regulations. Not only do these instructions completely ignore the AP High Court Judgement of September 2014 and subsequent deliberations and the decision by her predecessor Mr Parrrikar, but also subsume the powers of the GOC-in-C to be the final authority for closing any roads as laid down in the Act of 2006. RM had repeatedly quoted provisions of Cantonments Act which are not applicable to military areas of Cantonments. The instructions by RM for unconditional opening of all Cantonment roads quoting inapplicable Section of Cantonments Act clearly amounts to contempt of court. These have far reaching adverse implications not only on Cantonment Security but also on attempts to control encroachment of Govt land. AF pers have been performing their bonafide military duty when controlling entry into military areas for last so many decades. Placing of of check posts/ barriers etc & ascertaining of identity of visitors is part of prescribed procedures. The instructions by RM have been issued after consultations with DGDE officials, MoD Officials & local area representatives, who have vested interests in opening of Cantonment
Roads. Whether she was misled or she has been deliberately misleading the Nation remains to be seen.
A meeting of the central office bearers of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) held in New Delhi yesterday decided to support the idea of a Long March of the Dispossessed to Delhi to demand a special session of Parliament called entirely to discuss the serious agrarian crisis in the country.
This unprecedented agrarian crisis is reflected in the lakhs of suicides of debt-ridden peasants; the thousands of deaths of children and women due to starvation and malnutrition; the abysmal state of rural education and public health; the massive increase in rural unemployment and landlessness; and the unheard-of rise in economic and social inequality in the country.
There is now not an iota of doubt that this grave situation has been aggravated by the neo-liberal policies followed by the ruling classes during the last two and a half decades. The last four years have thoroughly exposed the Modi government as the most anti-farmer, anti-worker, pro-corporate and pro-imperialist government in Independent India. Along with this is its rabidly communal, casteist and divisive character.
The AIKS appeals to the broadest sections of progressive, democratic and secular organizations and individuals in the country who are sensitive to the intense pain and hardships being faced by farmers, both men and women, and their children, to support this idea of a Long March of the Dispossessed, to participate in it in huge numbers and to help it in any way that they can.
The AIKS appeals to all sections of farmers, agricultural workers, the working class, the middle class, students, youth and socially oppressed sections like women, Dalits, Adivasis, Minorities and others to support and join this Long March of the Dispossessed.
After a wider consultation with all concerned organizations and individuals, the date and programme of the March can be decided with consensus.
In the meanwhile, the AIKS calls upon all its units throughout the country to make a massive success of the three campaigns and agitations that have already been decided:
1. The 10 crore countrywide signature campaign on the burning demands of the peasantry;
2. The nationwide district-level Jail Bharo stir by lakhs of peasants and workers on August 9, Quit India Day;
3. The massive five lakh-strong All India Mazdoor-Kisan Rally in Delhi on September 5 organised jointly by the CITU, AIKS and AIAWU.
Dr Ashok Dhawale President Hannan Mollah General Secretary All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS)
The Forest Department has given permission to chop down nearly 17,000 trees in Delhi for the redevelopment of Central Government accommodations. While the government is talking euphemistically about the destruction, the numbers are staggering. 11,000 out of 13,128 trees in Sarojini Nagar will be felled. 1,465 out of 1,513 in Nauroji Nagar. 3033 out of 3906 in Netaji Nagar. 108 out of 349 in Thyagraj Nagar. 447 out of 562 in Mohammadpur and all 520 trees in Kasturba Nagar. The felling of 1,713 trees was approved earlier for the integrated complex at Pragati Nagar, also implemented by NBCC, which is implementing these projects.
For a city fighting a losing struggle with pollution, desertification, a dropping water table and climate extremes, the cutting of most of the trees in an area is nothing short of catastrophic. Trees improve the quality of air, strengthen the structure of the land, help retain moisture in air and soil, support biodiversity - in short, trees do a lot of things that support human needs. At a time when largescale reforestation is seen as a viable longterm solution to combat climate change, and a government report warns of 21 Indian cities to run out of groundwater within 2 years, a government planning to decimate thousands of trees in a city already struggling with environmental degradation raises serious questions about the motivations of decisionmakers.
Even more ironic is that the destruction is being wreaked in the name of constructing housing at a time when the real estate market is in a massive slump and the unsold inventory is vast. It is a game of money. It will be cheaper for the government to construct bulk housing. That kickbacks in large projects grease the machinery everywhere is an open secret. The very survival of the city being ignored toward this end does not bode well.
The government is making placatory noises about saplings being planted and trees being relocated, with claims designed to fool the gullible with numbers. "10 saplings planted for every tree cut" etc. The fact of the matter is that it is not so simple. The loss isn't just of a number of trees, though the number itself is significant. The loss, in environmental terms is one of ecology. The biodiversity of well established trees growing in an area, with roots deep into the ground that enable them to survive Delhi's increasing desertification, the undergrowth of shrubbery, symbiotic and parasitic life forms existing in a stable balance, birds and animals finding shelter in the canopy, surviving the harsh summers in its protection, the cooling effect of their shade for the region, the binding of carbon dioxide and release of oxygen supporting a densely populated urban sprawl.... 10 saplings may seem like well compensated in numbers, but decades will pass before those saplings can approach the functions that established tree cover killed today will. In the meanwhile, life forms depending on those trees for survival will perish.
Reforestation is also not a simple game. Delhi's water table is very low. for saplings to survive till the point their roots can naturally reach and draw water will take years of careful watering and nurturing, which will prevent the establishment of forest and development of the biodiversity. And at the end of all this, it still cannot be guaranteed that the trees will survive, as reforestation shows best results in fertile soil with a good moisture content, and we all know the situation of Delhi on that front. Moving mature trees is an even more expensive and complicated process. Mature trees have extensive root systems, and suffer considerable damage to roots in the process, with only a section of the rootball (size is calculated based on tree size) being transplanted to the new location. The trees need careful nurturing after being transplanted in order to survive.
In a country where government policies make it hard for humans to survive, where an arbitrary action like demonetisation devastated the economic survival of many, where the imposition of Aadhaar forces people to get and update theirs or lose out on necessities, where millions of humans "transplanted" by government lack proper relocation, it is very difficult to imagine the government taking the effort it would require, to even deliver on their inadequate claims of compensatory action. Nor do the assurances appear to be backed by actual hard information on where this mythical extensive plantation of thousands of trees will happen. On what land.
Cutting down trees on this scale is irreversible damage to the city.
Today, largescale reforestation is being considered seriously by governments as an essential step toward combating climate change. Brazil kicked off the world's largest reforestation project to date last year with an ambitious plan to plant 73 million trees to combat the deforestation of the Amazon. Perhaps the Indian government should at least plant those saplings first and let them grow to maturity before touching established trees.