The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has indicted the Odisha police for firing without provocation that killed six tribals in Kandhamal district when they returning home after collecting their rural employment scheme wages last month.
The commission’s finding casts a doubt on the police version that the six were caught in a gunfight between the Special Operations Group (SOG) — the anti-Maoist state police force — and Naxals on July 8.
In its report to the state government, the commission stated that the victims and their family members were returning in an autorickshaw which got bogged down at a culvert near Gumudumaha forest area and they had to stop to extricate the vehicle.
Survivors denied there was any gunfight at the spot before the police opened fire at them, the report said, which negates claims of the police that the civilians were caught in a crossfire.
Citing its interaction with the injured persons and family members of the deceased, the report said, “The commission specifically asked them about the movement of Maoists in their village but they denied having seen them ever.”
“They also denied that there was any sound like that of bullet firing at the place of incident before the police started firing at them. In view of the inputs received from family members of the victims and witnesses, it prima facie appears that firing by the police was resorted to without sufficient cause/provocation though exact sequence and cause of event would be known only after SIT investigation and judicial inquiry have been completed.”
The NCST report also stressed on the need to sensitize police forces involved in such operations to ensure such incidents do not recur.
It said the victims were poor MNREGA workers who had to travel for about 35 kilometres to collect their wages from a SBI branch at Balliguda. The commission has recommended that adequate banking facilities be made available in every panchayat or that the banks make arrangements for payment of wages in the villages concerned.
The commission also suggested appointing business correspondents as it is being done in states like Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. It also highlighted inadequacy of infrastructure including road connectivity and electricity and said that the compensation declared was inadequate.
The commission has also sought an action taken report from the Odisha government over its findings.