Karanataka's gesture

Print edition : September 02, 2000

THE decks were cleared on August 28 for the release of 51 associates of Veerappan, who were detained in a Mysore jail, with the Principal and Sessions Judge, Mysore, ordering the withdrawal of all charges pending against them under the Indian Penal Code and all other Acts.

Rajkumar and another hostage with the Nakkheeran team.-COURTESY: NAKKHEERAN

Nakkheeran

The cases dropped against the 51 detenus pertain to those filed in the Rampur police station (two in 1992 and one in 1994) and the Male Mahadeswara Hills police station (two in 1993). A similar order was passed with regard to 70 persons who are already o ut on bail.

However, Home Minister Mallikarjuna Kharge clarified that cases booked against Veerappan and also those who were absconding had not been dropped.

The S.M. Krishna government, however, continued to sit on a tinderbox in what the Chief Minister has described as "unusual, abnormal times". The government's consistent stand was in favour of accommodating Veerappan's demands to the extent the law allowe d. Thus, it went out of its way to get the charges under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) against the 51 detainees dropped. In line with its assurance to Veerappan, the government moved an application before the Judge of th e Designated TADA Court in Mysore, seeking withdrawal of charges under Section 3, 4 and 5 of TADA against the accused. On August 19, the court dismissed the objections of Abdul Kareem, father of Shakeel Ahmed, a Karnataka police sub-inspector who was kil led by Veerappan in 1992, and transferred the cases against the 51 to the Principal and Sessions Court. (Kareem, critical of the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments for adopting a soft stand on Veerappan, "belittling the supreme sacrifice made by police and forest officers of both States in their fight against Veerappan", has petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the detainees from being enlarged on bail.)

SOME of Veerappan's demands have been incidental, such as compensation to the Dalits killed near Kolar and official language status for Tamil in Karnataka. But the two main demands, the release of the 51 TADA detenus and the payment of compensation for t hose affected by atrocities allegedly committed by the Karnataka Special Task Force (STF), have, according to informed sources in the State Intelligence Department, the potential to turn Veerappan into a 'hero' in areas close to surrounding the Karnataka -Tamil Nadu border. A senior police officer said that Veerappan might even be seen as a champion of the people living in those areas. "This will make STF operations in the post-abduction phase even more difficult."

The payment of solatium could become a boon to the inhabitants on the fringes of the Satyamangalam forests, for the two governments have decided to set up a joint fund for this purpose. But actual payment of compensation is still some way off, and it wil l first have to come under the scrutiny of the courts.

The payment is to be made as per the findings of a two-man panel consisting of A.J. Sadashiva, a retired Judge of the Karnataka High Court, and C.V. Narasimhan, a former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), constituted by the National H uman Rights Commission (NHRC) in June 1999 to inquire into the alleged excesses by the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka STFs (Frontline, March 31, 2000).

On August 8, the High Court modified its March 27 stay on the proceedings of the Sadashiva Commission. The Commission will hold its sittings at Kolathur between September 11 and 13. But as per the court order, its report cannot be acted upon by the NHRC. This means that the two governments cannot pay compensation on the basis of the report until the court passes orders on the writ petition filed by an STF officer.

Justice Sadashiva said that the main question that would arise when the petition came up before the court would be two-fold: first, "whether the NHRC can delegate powers and appoint a panel in such (human right violation) matters", and secondly, on the i ssue of the cases being over a year old when the complaints were first made. One argument is whether the court, when it hears the petition, will hold the view that the complaints in this particular case are "a case of continuous course of action", in whi ch case the one-year clause would not apply.

But Sadashiva is categorical that the petition did not mean a bar on a remedy for the alleged victims. "In the instance of the panel not being able to function, the NHRC will itself record a finding of illegal confinement, rape... and decide what action has to be taken. This can be acted upon by the governments," he said.

A piquant situation had arisen during the Commission's sitting at Gobichettipalayam and Kolathur as it was in a dilemma over whether it could inquire into cases that were already pending before the Tamil Nadu State Human Rights Commission (TNHRC). Justic e Sadashiva had sought a clarification from the NHRC, which asked him to record evidence and submit a report. According to informed sources, "even though over 200 cases relating to alleged STF atrocities have been filed before the TNHRC (which was establ ished in 1997), it has not taken action. The files are pending. It has not contacted the Sadashiva panel." Although not an appellate body, the NHRC can direct the TNHRC to act.

The need for a Karnataka Human Rights Commission will be felt now, given the fact that the Krishna government is earnest about compensating the alleged victims.

THE wait for the return of Rajkumar has been a painful experience for not only the actor's family but also the government, the Kannada film industry, business establishments and the public. Everybody wants the "bad dream" to end and to be able to get on with life.

Rajkumar's family members have sent the sixth message for broadcast in Kannada and Tamil over All India Radio from Bangalore, Coimbatore and Tiruchi. In her latest message addressed to Veerappan, the actor's wife Parvathamma said that if he did not relea se Rajkumar soon, the whole family would "come and live with you (Veerappan) in the forest".

Some members of the Rajkumar Fans' Association and a Dalit organisation even threatened to gather 5,000 people and march into the Satyamangalam forests in a bid to free Rajkumar. The Kannada Chalavali Kendra Samithi president G. Narayana Kumar upped the ante, warning of dire consequences if Rajkumar's release was not secured by August 31.

The Kannada film industry has come to a standstill, and this has affected the lives of hundreds families. The Karnataka Film Chamber of Commerce kept production, distribution and even exhibition on hold despite Rajkumar plea to the industry to resume its activities. The Film Employees Federation of Karnataka has been distributing provisions to its 3,000-odd daily wage workers to help them tide over the crisis.

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