Gadchiroli, June 25, 2013
Pavan Dahat, The Hindu
The mining row, which saw a senior executive of a company and two others being killed by the Naxals last week, has taken a new twist with the police now targeting an activist and a Prime Minister Rural Development Fellow (PMRDF) for alleged links with the Naxals.
A team of the Gadchiroli police’s special anti-Naxal unit — C-60 — claimed to have raided a village, Kovunwarsi, in Etapalli tehsil of the district on June 20 and arrested Sunil Yeshu Hichami (27) and Paika Majhi Pungati (45) over the allegation of collecting funds for the Naxals.
Police also claimed that Mahesh Raut, a PMRDF, and Harshali Potdar, an activist from Mumbai, were present in the village when they arrested the Naxals.
A leading English newspaper on Sunday reported that Ms. Potdar and Mr. Raut had been booked under Sections 13, 39 and 40 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
But Aheri Additional Superintendent of Police Rahul Shreerame said that both of them were just questioned for some time and let off. Mr. Shreerame denied having registered any offence against Ms. Potdar and Mr. Raut.
Contrastingly, Superintendent of Police (SP) Suvez Haque said the police had, in fact, booked them under various offences “because they were found in the same village from where other two Naxals were arrested.”
However, Gadchiroli police PRO Dharmendra Joshi told The Hindu that both Ms. Potdar and Mr. Raut had been let off after some “preliminary questioning.”
A top district official of Gadchiroli told The Hindu on the condition of anonymity that the police had not registered any offence as reported by the English newspaper and as claimed by the SP.
This district official also questioned as to why both Ms. Potdar and Mr. Raut had not been taken into custody if the police booked them for such serious offences.
But Ms. Potdar and Mr. Raut (both alumni of Tata Institute of Social Sciences) and the villagers of Kowanwarsi had an entire different chain of events to narrate.
“As a PMRD Fellow, I often visit these interior areas. On June 20 also, I went to visit these villages one by one. Harshali, who is studying the environmental threat caused by the proposed mining projects in this area, also accompanied me to these villages. At around 9.00 a.m., we reached Kovunwarsi and decided to take a nap at the house of the village Patil. At 10.00 a.m., a team of C-60 came to the village and arrested some people. They asked for our identity cards and told us to proceed with our work,” Mr. Raut told The Hindu .
“When we were returning to Allapalli in the evening, the police stopped us and took us to the Pranhita Police Headquarters where they questioned us for more than 30 hours,” he added.
Police alleged that Ms. Potdar and Mr. Rauthad gone to Kovunwarsi village to meet senior Naxal leader Narmada Akka.
But Ms. Potdar, Mr. Raut and the villagers have denied these claims.
“They came to inspect village infrastructure. They were sleeping in my house when the police arrested some Naxals from another house,” said Joga Buklu Hedau, the village Patil.
Even the District Collector of Gadchiroli, Abhishekh Krishna, said that Mr. Raut often visited interior areas in the Aheri division for his work.
“His work has been the best among all other PMRD fellows who work under me,” said Mr. Krishna.
According to Amol Marakwar, a Zila Parishad member of Gadchiroli, Ms. Potdar and Mr. Raut were being targeted for their “visible opposition” to the proposed mining projects in Surajagad Gatta range.
“Harshali had very strongly raised objections to these projects in a public hearing in Allapalli last month. Now she has been harassed for publicly opposing it” said Mr. Marakwar.
Mr. Haque did question Ms. Potdar and Mr. Raut’s open opposition to the proposed mining projects in this area.
“How can they oppose the government’s projects despite being a part of the government?” asked the SP.
Ms. Potdar confirmed that the majority of questions addressed to her were related to mining.
“They even asked me why we had two CDs of Kabira Kala Manch and why I saved some of the contacts in my mobile phone as ‘Comrades’. They even had problem with some people greeting me with Lal Salam and Jai Bhim . They searched our house and our laptop is with them now,” said Ms. Potdar.
Presently, the police at Aheri headquarters calls the duo for questioning on a regular basis. Some times Ms. Potdar is asked to come to the police station even after 6.00 p.m.
The duo has not been told if they have been booked or not.
“They asked us to sign on a blank paper, but we refused” said Mr. Raut.
Mr. Marakwar called the police exercise “an attempt to destroy roadblocks against the proposed mining projects in the area” and a “blatant violation of Human Rights.”
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