REPORT OF THE ENQUIRY INTO THE LATHI CHARGE ON THE DEMONSTRATION BY DISHOUSED SLUM DWELLERS
ON 6TH APRIL 2005 IN MUMBAI
The Indian People‚s Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) requested us ˆ Justice (Retd.) R.B.Mehrotra and J.B.D‚Souza, former Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra ˆ to hold an unofficial judicial enquiry into the lathi charge by the Mumbai police on the 6th April 2005, on a morcha taken out by people whose homes had been demolished by the State and municipal authorities in Mumbai in December 2004.
The scheduled dates of enquiry were notified as the 23rd and 24th April 2005. We made our enquiry at three places, one in Mumbai‚s eastern suburbs and two in the western suburbs. We submit this report after examining people who were injured in the lathi charge, media persons who were covering the demonstration, social activists and eminent people, who gave eye-witness accounts.
Further, we made an attempt to secure the version of the Government of Maharashtra , and of the police, in particular. Letters were addressed by the IPHRC to Shri R.R.Patil, Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister, Maharashtra, the Commissioner of Police, Shri A.N.Roy, Mumbai, Shri Naval Bajaj, DCP , Zone I, Mumbai, Sr.PI Shri Kaiser Ahmed, Azad Maidan Police Station and PI Sanjay Kadam, Azad Maidan Police Station, Mumbai. However, there was no reply from any of them.
Since there was no response to the request, we thought we too should address Shri Patil, to enable us to come to a correct conclusion. We suggested that the Minister might decide on a time and place for such a hearing. But no official came, nor did the Minister reply, so that we have no idea of the official version except for the Police Commissioner‚s statement which appeared in the press on the 7th April.
1.1 Suddenly toward the end of 2004 Maharashtra‚s Chief Minister announced that he would turn Mumbai into a world-class city. As a model to emulate he chose Shanghai. Pursuant to the goal he had chosen he decided to demolish squatter slums put up after 1995. (Slums created up to that year were protected by an earlier government decision.) In his quest for votes in the October 2004 State elections the CM vowed that if elected to power the government would regularize slums created up to 2000, but he resiled from that promise after winning the elections and assuming power. (The switch from 1995 to 2000 could possibly lead to his prosecution under Sec. 417 or 420 IPC, for cheating a slum dweller into voting for the Congress ˆ but that is not a matter that concerns us in this enquiry.) The Congress manifesto also promised that jhuggis built up to 2000 would be protected.
1.2 The growth of Mumbai‚s population is too readily ascribed to an influx of poor people from India‚s villages. That was true up to the 1970s, but since then it has been the natural increase of the city‚s existing population that has greatly outpaced the rural influx as the primary growth factor. There is still, of course, a steady influx, but even the CM, who is also the Minister for Urban Development, is quite ignorant of its pace. He has regularly claimed that 350 rural families immigrate into Mumbai daily ˆ an exaggeration by a factor of at least ten.
1.3 The principal reason for the continuance of the influx, such as it is, is the persistence of rural poverty. Villagers move to the city because gainful employment is scarce in their villages. Many in the lower castes move to escape the tribulations that afflict those castes more obtrusively in small rural communities. To these factors must be added the displacement of people, specially tribals, from land that governments acquire for large projects. Clearly the move to the cities is a consequence of circumstances that the government should itself have addressed during the half century after independence.
1.4 In their treatment of the rural influx, mostly of poor people, our governments have not tried to provide affordable shelter to accommodate them. So they are forced into squatting wherever they can find space in the cities, however wretched the conditions that prevail in such settlements. Successive governments‚ response to the growth of such slums in Mumbai has been simply a promise to tolerate those created before a certain date, a date that keeps moving forward in fits and starts when elections draw near. Up to mid-2004, that date was 1995.
As we have seen above, election fever led to its shift to 2000, a promise Mr Vilasrao Deshmuh tried to deny after he became CM at the end of 2004. Today the majority of Mumbai‚s citizens are forced to live in slums. In fact, as a recent Right-to-Information disclosure by the police department has shown, 4413 constables and 81 police officers live in slums.
1.5 Mumbai‚s municipal and revenue authorities sprang with alacrity into a massive program to demolish slums set up after 1995, and in an incredibly short period of two months made some 90.000 slum families homeless. In their haste, they destroyed large numbers of pre-1995 huts that had sheltered people who had papers like ration cards to prove the age of their residence. We visited Ambujwadi, one of the largest areas of demolition, on the 24th April, where we found many people whose names had been on the voters‚ list. Perhaps that was what inspired the pre-election Congress promise extending 1995 to 2000 for protection.
1.6 Our site visit also showed that large numbers of pucca constructions had been bulldozed during the demolition. The victims of the demolition bitterly complained that their belongings, including foodstuffs, utensils and ration cards had been destroyed.
EVENTS OF THE 6TH APRIL
2.1 The unfortunate incidents of April 6, 2005, into which we have been asked to inquire, commenced at about 11 a.m. at August Kranti Maidan. Some 8000 people assembled there. They collectively took an oath before the Gandhi statue, an oath to persist in their agitation against the large-scale demolitions, but to maintain peace throughout. They then walked in a morcha about 7 km. to Azad Maidan, which they reached about 2.30 p.m. All the way there they were escorted by the police, who could have warned their leaders if their meeting and movement to Azad Maidan were considered unlawful. On the contrary, a Canadian journalist deposed before us that they were cordial, capturing the excitement of the occasion.
2.2 When they reached near the BMC building opposite Azad Maidan they found that the Maidan was full, occupied by three or four other sets of demonstrators. Medha Patkar spoke to them over a microphone. She told them to sit down where they were, on the street and footpath, to wait till some space might be available in the Maidan grounds. Many of them were desperately thirsty after their long walk and tried to search nearby for water. While they were in the process of settling down, and Medha Patkar was in conversation with the police officers for a few minutes about the possibility of moving into Azad Maidan, the police presence around them ominously increased.
2.3 As the evidence before us unmistakably shows, the gathering was perfectly peaceful. There could have been no apprehension whatever of a breach of peace. This description was confirmed again and again by photographs taken at the time, and by the films shot by Anand Patwardhan and others, as well as by the narrations of those who deposed (over 80 of them), including independent observers, whom we list below :
· Sudhir Badami, structural engineer
· Sonia Nerkar, trainee journalist with Apla Mahanagar
· Sujata Gothoskar, Forum Against Oppression of Women ˆ beaten and medical report confiscated by police
· Sandhya Gokhale, beaten
· Maju Varghese ˆ works for ŒInitiative‚, beaten because he pleaded for women beaten inside the police station
· Vinod Hivaly, Apnalaya staff and Civil Defence Officer
· Chitra Palekar, film-maker
· Dave Ron, Canadian journalist, beaten twice.
· Ayub Shaikh, Reporter, Sahara Samay TV
Besides, we heard their accounts of the day‚s events from
Medha Patkar, who led the morcha
Anand Patwardhan, film maker
Subhash Baburao Marathe, President, Chembur Jhopadpatti Dharak Mahasangh
Praveen Ghag, member, Girni Kamgar Sangarsh Samiti
2.4 Suddenly the Deputy Commissioner of Police present there, Naval Bajaj, announced that he would shout "1 ˆ 2 ˆ 3" and the police would then disperse the crowd. Almost at once he screamed again "1- 2- 3" and the constables and inspectors (Kaiser Ahmed and Sanjay Kadam) began a lathi charge on the people seated there. Men, women (some of them pregnant) and children were thrashed indiscriminately, people stampeded in panic; many, particularly women and children, fell and badly hurt themselves. Participants in the morcha, who had sat on the ground in response to Medha Patkar‚s instructions, were beaten before they could rise. Medha Patkar was beaten and dragged into a police van. Patwardhan‚s camera, a target specially chosen by the police, was struck and flung to the ground. He too was dragged into a police van, his shirt torn to shreds. Some of the victims of the lathi charge were so badly injured that, two weeks after the incident, when they appeared to depose before us, they still had their arms or legs in plaster.
2.5 One of the children, Shabana, infant daughter of Salim Manihar, was so badly hurt that she died soon after reaching home. We visited the family‚s makeshift jhopdi outside the Ambujwadi demolition site, and consoled the child‚s parents. Salim had already addressed a complaint to the Azad Maidan Police Station in this respect on the 20th April. He verified its contents to us.
2.6 Large numbers of the demonstrators as well as others like Anand Patwardhan, were arrested. Some were beaten even after they were within the police station. One of them produced a receipt for Rs.500, paid to secure her release; she said she had actually paid Rs.2000.
2.7 We were given copies of a large number of medical treatment papers written up at St George‚s Hospital, Nair Hospital and G.T.Hospital. The rush of patients injured by the police lathis was so large that many persons seeking treatment were turned away. Some of those injured were treated at private clinics.
BRUTAL LATHI CHARGE WITHOUT CAUSE OR PROVOCATION
3.1 Was the demonstration on April 6 at any stage unlawful? We have carefully considered each of the five criteria listed in Sec 141, I P C, but find that none of them could characterize this demonstration. It was a demonstration aimed entirely at calling the attention of the state government and the public of Mumbai to the plight of the dishoused slum people, There was no force whatever, criminal or otherwise; there was no resistance to law or legal process; there was neither mischief nor trespass. The police had escorted the morcha all the way from August Kranti Maidan to Azad Maidan. Had the objective or the means of demonstrating been illegal it was surely the duty of the police to prevent the procession to south Mumbai.
3.2 And as to their conduct on arrival outside Azad Maidan, we have the evidence of independent witnesses, evidence that has emphatically convinced us that there was no truth at all in the claim by A.N.Roy, Police Commissioner, later that day, that the lathi charge was a response to stone throwing. The films shot by Patwardhan and others show no rocks or stones lying on the street after dispersal of the demonstrators. Even the Times of India report on the next day on the incident, ends with a contradiction of his claim. It is disgraceful that a senior officer of the Indian Police Service should descend to fabrication and falsehood to defend the indefensible.
We are satisfied, on the basis of the oral statements before us, the written statements we received, the films and newspaper cuttings we were shown, photographs and a floppy produced by Dave Ron, that there was no provocation whatever of any type by the demonstrators which could excuse such brutal and inhuman lathi charge as occurred.
3.3 As stated above, to give the police an opportunity to establish their version they were invited to appear before us. They did not. If they have an explanation of their conduct, they were not prepared to share it with us, for reasons that we can well understand.
3.4 We also asked the Deputy C.M., who is the Home Minister, to let us meet him. There was no response.
4.1 Was the lathi charge preceded by a warning to the assembled crowd, a direction that they disperse? Such a direction to a peaceful crowd, however unjustified, might have converted the assembly into an unlawful one. The law requires that the police give such warning before a resort to force. Chapter IX of the Criminal Procedure Code is clear.
4.2 We have incontrovertible evidence ˆ not only from Medha Patkar and the aggrieved slum people who deposed but also of several independent witnesses ˆ that there was no warning whatever, unless a cryptic and peremptory "1- 2- 3" declaration by the DCP, Naval Bajaj (and addressed not to the crowd but to his policemen), has to serve as one.
USE OF EXCESSIVE FORCE
5.1 Authorities using force against activities they regard as disturbances of the peace are obliged to use as little force as they can, to bring the situation under control. There is a hierarchy of enforcement devices beginning with tear gas and water jets, with both of which, we understand, Mumbai‚s police are equipped. There is no justification for the police to have jumped straight to a lathi charge in their decision to disperse the slum dwellers‚ morcha. And when they did so, they did it in the most brutal fashion, thrashing children and women with babes in arms or after they had fallen in flight, accompanying their assaults with obscene abuse, of which witness after witness complained. One of the police officers, Kaiser Ahmed, even went to the extent of later trying to cajole into silence Salim Manihar, father of the deceased girl, on the ground that they were brothers, both Muslims, and he, Ahmed, would be of use in future. He got Salim to sign statements which were not read or explained to him.
5.2 Nor were the police justified in confiscating the medicines doled out to their injured victims. Para 62 in Volume III of the Bombay Police Manual, 1959, requires the police officers dealing with disturbances to arrange medical aid for those injured. Altogether, the police did everything wrong; they broke the law, they were barbarous, cruel and deceitful.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTION
6.1 The constables who wielded the lathis so brutally, acted under the direct control and supervision of DCP Naval Bajaj and Inspectors Kaiser Ahmed and Sanjay Kadam, who personally watched the havoc they were wreaking. It is these three officers who are guilty of usurping powers they did not have and using them to harm innocent demonstrators. We are satisfied that (a) they deserve to be prosecuted under Sections 166 and 325 or 323, IPC, and (b) if the state government does not under Secs 132 and 197, CrPC, allow their prosecution, the High Court should be approached for a writ directing the government to do so.
6.2 It is a total breach of the law (and of para 113 of the Bombay Police Manual) for the police at the Azad Maidan Police Station to have refused to record an FIR about these incidents and for the Police Commissioner to have done the same when Medha Patkar approached him. Here too, we recommend prosecution under Sec 166, IPC.
6.3 We also recommend that those injured, and the parents of the child who died, be adequately compensated by the government, at the cost of the police officers who perpetrated this oppressive action and the Commissioner who tried to cover it.
6.4 We further recommend that those dishoused by the demolitions be provided with at least makeshift shelter at the same speed with which their homes were destroyed, to save them from the rigours of the monsoon.
The evidence collected by the Tribunal is available with The Indian People‚s Human Rights Commission, Mumbai. Contact : 9870042752
NATIONAL ALLIANCE OF PEOPLE'S MOVEMENTS
Haji Habib Building, Naigoan Cross Road,Dadar (E), Mumbai - 14
The role of Maharashtra Govt. regarding rehabilitation of slum dwellers is unclear even today. The discussion for planning the rehabilitation should be done only after rehabilitating all the slum dwellers on the same spot.
The chief Minister of Maharashtra, Shri Vilasrao Deshmukh has finally decided to raise the cut-off date from 1995 to 2000 which is viewed as a sign of the
Maharashtra Government moving one step forward.
According to the Chief Minister, it has been decided to bring the promise made by the NCP and Congress party in their election manifesto into reality. Only a few days ago, Maharashtra Pradesh Congress President, Smt. Prabha Rao, had stated during the May day celebrations that the mention of 2000 as cut-off-date in the election manifesto was a printing mistake. This has now been promptly denied. It is startling to note the contradictory statements issued regarding the basic rights of thousands of families from the labouring community who have been deprived of not only their houses but also their aily bread and are now perishing under the hot May sun. Also, the affidavit
produced by the State Govt. in respect of an older case (filed by the Relief Road Residents Association)is not completely satisfactory.
It is understood from the press that the Maharashtra Govt. has sought a ruling by the court through the affidavit, the hearing of which is due on 8th June,2005. The question is, can the govt. not overrule its own laws or earlier orders/decisions by issuing a fresh ruling in favour of the poor?
Various other laws like the Patent law, Electricity law are being bent at
free will. Wasn't asking for the court's permission possible or necessary before any such step? This raises doubts as to what is the real face or intention of the Government!
To the nearly 150 representatives of these poor families from Mumbai who met her yesterday i.e. on 7th May, 2005 Smt. Sonia Gandhi gave an assurance that the party has decided to rehabilitate all the displaced on the same plot of land as an immediate step. Whereas Shri. Gurudas Kamat, MP, has stated that everything has already been done in favour of the poor and declared the movement by the slum dwellers as unwarranted and a publicity stunt. In reality, the state Govt. has so far not paid any heeds to the Center or the party opinion and avoided giving relief to the poor families. Thousands of children, old,sick, hungry and thirsty have been left unprotected
in the open to face the cold, the sun and the impending rains.
Now, in the 7th May affidavit filed in the court, as per what the Maharashtra Chief Minister says, the families from 1995 to 2000 will be allotted
plots admeasuring about 150 sq. feet outside Mumbai by charging them Rs.15,000/- per family. This raises a number of questions.
1.What about the thousands of families whose houses have been demolished in spite of them belonging to prior 1995 period? These demolitions were not only unjust but also unlawful. Who will compensate for their loss and how?
2.Whether the Govt. will be responsible for leaving these people homeless, torturing them and depriving them of their constitutional right to live and
3. When their means of subsistence are within the city of Mumbai, close to where they were staying and from where they have now been evacuated, why should they be thrown out of Mumbai? Even today, there are thousands of hectors of land within Mumbai where the lease is already over, or which were leased to the rich for a pittance or land which was reserved for allotment to
the homeless under the Mumbai Development Plan or the land which was reserved under the urban land ceiling act and used unlawfully or land acquired by the rich and the able by trespassing CRZ Notification etc.
4.It is agreeable that the scheme for rehabilitation for the poor should be free from malpractices which enrich the already flourishing builders and give
costly accommodations to politicians at much cheaper rate. After allotting 150 sq. feet of land to the poor, it is agreeable to recover some amount from
them; but why in lump-sum? Why not on an easy installment over a period of time? Can the poor pay an amount of Rs.15,000/- at a time? While the Govt. is giving services and facilities like land-highway,infrastructure to the rich in the country, why not offer basic facilities like housing or other related amenities at a low cost or on easy installment to the poor? Can it be termed as a special obligation or against the welfare of the nation? In fact the Govt.is obliged to fulfill this constitutional responsibility.
5.Will the Chief Minister and the Govt. of Maharashtra, remove the police force and allow the families to resettle on the same plots from where
their house were buldozed in accordance with what Sonia Gandhi and her party has decided? The mansoon is fast approaching (less than a month from now) and it is an urgent need to resettle these poor families well before monsoon.
If the Chief Minister, Center and State Governments and the representatives of Congress-NCP-Republican Party do not take any decision in this matter after discussions with People's Movements, then we are in for a bitter struggle.
Suniti S.R., Sanjay M.G., Medha Patkar, Raju Bhise,
Kausalya Salve, Mohan Chavan.
NATIONAL ALLIANCE OF PEOPLE‚S MOVEMENTS
C/o chemical Mazdoor Sabha, 1 st floor, A Wing, Haji Habib Bldg, Naigaon Cross Rd,
Dadar (E), Mumbai -400014).
Press Release: May 10, 2005
THE FAKE SCARE OF BANGLADESHIS TAKING OVER MUMBAI STANDS EXPOSED: Official Record Shows only 626 Bangladeshis in Mumbai
While both Bal Thakre with his son and nephew, as well as Vilasrao Deshmukh raised a hue and cry against the Bangladeshis taking over Mumbai, one got a feeling as the government tried hard to make us believe, that these "encroachers" are "terrorists" and "crowding" the country in large numbers. That they are "all criminals" and the country‚s peace, law and order, morality and culture- everything was at stake. The two senior-most of the opponent politicians in Mumbai must have felt threatened by this since both agreed on this common issue; one would have thought this was a crisis or a critical issue!
We therefore decided to get out any information on the Bangladeshis, if not their whereabouts, their anti-social activities as claimed by the government, starting with their number. The Right to Information Act came to our help.
The question raised has the official reply by now. There are (only) 626 Bangladeshis in the entire city of Mumbai, as of 2004.
Six hundred and twenty six out of one crore people in Mumbai and we‚re being made to believe they constitute an unprecedented threat!
And the slum-dwellers are to be defamed to get sympathy from the middle and upper class taxpayers, whose taxable property itself came through the blood and sweat of the poor, including poor Bangladeshis. They are to be evicted to snatch away the land. It is certainly to condemn the slum-dwellers as videshis and vagabonds that the Bangladeshi false allegation has been used.
The truth is that not the Bangladeshis but the desi corrupt builders and their protectors are the real threat to India. When American, European and other videshis are welcomed into our country, why not the Bangladeshis?
The hypocrisy and double standards of the government are evident and shameful.