The state's Chief Secretary D Sankaran and Yavatmal district's Superintendent of Police Abdul Rehman will have to appear before the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission (MSHRC) on January 2, and explain why the police fired on a group of agitating cotton farmers in Wani on December 7, killing one of them, Dinesh Ghugul in the process.
The MSHRC notices to the two senior officials, as well as Wani's Police Station Officer NF Tadavi, follow a petition filed by the Yavatmal-based farmers' organisation, the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), arguing that the state had violated the right to life.
"It is a very serious matter", MSHRC Chairperson CL Thool told HT. "We expect the officials to appear in person and explain their side of the case."
Since the start of December, farmers had been agitating outside Wani's agricultural market over delays in procurement and faulty grading by state agencies, and joined by a local college's students began pelting stones on officials and constables, leading to the firing. The police own subsequent report shows an explosive situation was developing.
VJAS lawyer Vinod Tiwari told HT, "Our petition demands compensation of Rs 5 lakh for the injured who are seriously hurt in their kidneys and stomach. And Rs 10 lakh for Ghugul's family - his parents are aged, and he has 3 daughters, with the family in a desperate situation. We also want the official's responsibility for the firing to be charged, and prosecuted, including for murder."
Thool said the commission's investigation take 2-3 months and the government recommended to act as per its findings, even prosecute the officials if necessary.
Yavatmal SP Abdul Rehman told HT that the incident was unfortunate but unavoidable: "14 officials and constables were locked up in a building and the mob, consisting of farmers joined by students and anti-social elements, was about to set it on fire. We had to resort to the firing in order to save human lives and public property."
Rehman added, "26 rounds were fired, but only one death took place and a few injuries. This shows that police fired in a controlled manner despite the violent situation."
Ajay Dandekar, who authored a 2005 inquiry for the Bombay High Court into farmers suicides in Vidarbha over 2400 farmers have killed themselves since 2001 in the face of mounting debts and plummeting cotton prices_said, "The incident is a wake-up call for the government and society that Vidarbha's peasantry is in a deep crisis. The farmers have very basic aspirations but even these are not being met…they are looking at death."
Tiwari added, "The bigger problem is that the RR Patil and Vilasrao Deshmukh government are out of touch with the cotton farmers desperation. We hope MSHRC's action will help address that."