The constant flow of human bodies into the Bhakra irrigation canal near the Khanauri barrage in Patiala district has put the Punjab government in a fix before National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Two months on, the state is yet to reply to a notice of motion on these corpses that could be of murder, suicide, or accident victims. Four-to-five bodies are fished everyday by a team of divers doing this job for years now, searching the missing people for families. In September 2015, after human right organisation Movement Against State Repression (MASR) brought the matter to its notice, the NHRC wrote to the Punjab chief secretary to ask for a reply within four weeks.
As the MASR raised the matter again on Friday at a press conference here — even screening a video of how stray dogs feast over the bodies that float up to the canal embankments — state chief secretary Sarvesh Kaushal said in a quick reaction: “I have sensitised the additional chief secretary, home, and the DGP (director general of police) for follow-up action and remedial measures.”
“I have ordered the deputy commissioner, SSP (senior superintendent of police), civil surgeon, and superintending engineer (canals) to inspect the point near Khanauri within three days and propose a mechanism for the retrieval of the bodies,” said Kaushal. The chief secretary said he would be able to clarify only later on whether or not the state had yet replied to the NHRC notice, since the matter pertained to the home department.
Kaushal accepted that the proposed installation of floodlights and cameras under the Khanauri barrage waters had not yet started. MASR convener Inderjit Singh Jaijee accused the police of shirking its duty. “If police come into action, many families will get back the bodies of their missing members,” said Jaijee, “but on the contrary, cops have instructed the divers not to retrieve the unclaimed corpses.”
The footage shown at the press conference featured divers who were putting the bodies back into the canal after identification. A Russian channel had filmed dogs in the act of dragging bodies out of the shallow waters.
2011: MASR moves the Punjab and Haryana high court for directions to the Punjab government on the matter
2012: The high court orders installation of floodlights and cameras under the barrage waters
2014: Police start keeping a record of the bodies recovered daily
September 2015: MASR moves National Human Rights Commission against non-compliance of the high court orders
February 2016: NHRC writes to Punjab chief secretary to seek explanation.