PUDR expresses shock and concern at the manner in which the Office of the Superintendent of Police, Kalahandi in Odisha is issuing threats and intimidation of encounter deaths to public spirited individuals and professionals in the Niyamgiri region in the course of their regular discharge of duty. A forty-year old journalist, Padmanabha Choudhury has been threatened to be killed in an encounter death by the SP in Bhawanipatna. He works for the channel Orissa Vision as well as Subham Barta.
On June 17, 2019, Padmanabha Choudhury had been invited by the villagers to cover a meeting on the Forest Rights Act of 2006 at Laptaguda in Chatrapur Panchayat in Lanjigarh block, Kalahandi district of Odisha .That very evening the Lanjigarh Police Station authorities visited him in his house and asked him to accompany them to the Lanjigarh Police Station, alleging that he had attended a Maoist meeting. His motorcycle key was forcibly taken from him and the motorcycle retained in the police station. He waited two days to meet the SP in his office. On June 19, the SP interrogated him and began abusing him in filthy language. He repeatedly informed him the meeting was a discussion on FRA and that the villagers are planning to meet the District Magistrate too. The SP did not heed his explanation, but threatened to beat him with a plastic cable, and threatened to have him killed in an encounter if he argued about why he attended the Maoist meeting.
Most shaken and tense with these threats and intimidation by the SP to go yet again to his office, the journalist reached the State Human Rights Commission in Bhubaneswar on June 22 and registered a complaint stating that he is in fear of his safety and his life.
Padmanabha Choudhary’s intimidation forms part of the relentless harassment, custodial violence and illegal detentions of the people of Niyamgiri for resisting bauxite mining by Vedanta in their hills. Previously, the Kalahandi police and administration have targeted British Kumar (a youth leader of the Khandualamli Suraksha Samiti and Bhumi Adhikaar Surakshya Samiti), Lingaraj Azad (member of Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti), Lada Sikaka (member of NSS), all on allegations of association with Maoists, while they attempt to assert their constitutional rights and bring attention to the ongoing rights violations and repression in the area. In 2013, 12 gram Sabhas in the area had unanimously rejected bauxite mining by Vedanta in the Niyamgiri hills pursuant to a Supreme Court order. Instead of implementing the verdict of the Supreme Court and the decision of the Gram Sabhas under the FRA, the Odisha government is using targeted persecution of locals and journalists to crush opposition to the project.
Presently, Padmanabha Choudhury has approached the Odisha High Court for protection of his fundamental rights. PUDR demands an immediate end to the harassment of Padmanabha Choudhury, and the Odisha government must take action against the SP for targeted intimidation of a journalist.
PUDR also demands that the Odisha government take action against the SP for previous acts of intimidation against Lado Sikaka and Lingaraj Azad, and assault of British Kumar, and an end to the impunity for democratic rights violations of the people of Niyamgiri and those seeking to expose the ongoing human rights violations in the area. The Gram Sabha verdict against bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills must be upheld by the Odisha government.
Deepika Tandon and Shahana Bhattacharya