Bhima-Koregaon Inquiry Commission: No sight of final report after 21 months, 4 extensions
After 21 months and four extensions, the two-member Bhima Koregaon Inquiry Commission set up by the previous Devendra Fadnavis Government is nowhere close to submitting its findings into the causes of the caste riots that shook up Maharashtra in January 2018.
On January 1, 2018, riots broke out in various parts of Pune district on the occasion of the 200th commemoration day of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in which the East India Company defeated the Peshwas with the help of Dalit soldiers. One person was killed in these riots and at least 11 arrested, two of whom are out on bail.
All these arrests have been part of the flip-flops in the positions taken by government and the Pune Police which first blamed a Maratha faction for the riots and later blamed the December 31 ‘Elgar Parishad Dalit pride’ gathering in Pune and ‘urban naxals’ for the violence.
Nine prominent persons who include human rights activists, intellectuals, social workers and lawyers among others who were arrested in the case are awaiting trial under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
The two-member Bhima Koregaon Inquiry Commission headed by retired Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court, Jay Narayan Patel includes former Chief Secretary and the present Chief Information Officer of Maharashtra, Sumit Mullick as members. VV Palnitkar is serving as the registrar of the commission. The commission functions with the powers of a civil court in two locations: the Public Information Office at Madam Cama road, Mumbai and the Zilla Parishad building in Bundgarden, Pune.
A visit to the Mumbai office of the Commission revealed that it has received more than 500 affidavits from various people since the formation of the commission. “With the 25th witness recording statement, only around 50 more affidavits will be considered,” a senior official who declined to be identified said.
Advocate Ashish Satpute, representing the commission said there was a lot of duplication in the affidavits submitted which will be eliminated. He cited the example of a group of 70 people from Ghatkopar, Mumbai, all of who submitted affidavits. Only one person from this group would be called, he said.
Satpute administers the oath and conducts cross examination of the witnesses.
Advocate Shishir Hiray who is representing the state said 110 affidavits have been filed by various government and police officials.
The commission, which was formed in February 2018, has been granted four extensions so far. The last extension ended on November 9 and the current extension is set to end in February 2020.
A senior official said a number of factors were responsible for the delay in completing the work of the commission. These included unavailability and “no-show” of witnesses and the political situation in Maharashtra to some extent. For example, Professor Jogendra Kawade, a Dalit leader who is among the five people whose statements were in the process of recording, asked for change of date as he wanted to remain available at the swearing-in ceremony of the Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray, the official said.
Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh’s leader Sham Baburao Nilangekar was served summons thrice before being forcefully produced in the commission under an arrest warrant in October. He ensured that he would file an additional affidavit and then record his statement. He has, however, not shown up since then, the official said.
“This has happened 2-3 times when the commission had to issue arrest warrants. But besides Nilangekar, all others filed for bail and then proceeded to record their statements,” said a highly placed official at the commission. “They seek adjournment on medical grounds like headache, fever and all,” the official added.
The commission is yet to start recording statements regarding the Elgar Parishad which happened at Shaniwar Wada, Pune, on December 31, 2017. Harshali Potdar, a member of the Dalit cultural group, Kabir Kala Manch, will be the first to record a statement before the commission. However, she has cited medical grounds for delay in her appearance before the commission.
The hearings in Pune are scheduled to resume on December 16.
How it started
As per the statements recorded by the commission, local sentiments were hurt after a information board was put up by the family of Govind Gopal Gaikwad in Vadu village of Pune district on December 28, 2017. According to one version of history, it was Gaikwad, a member of the Mahar community, who performed the last rites of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s son, Sambhaji Maharaj, after he was brutally killed by the Mughals.
This information on the board led to the filing of three police cases followed by the destruction of the board. These cases were filed against the Gaikwads, against villagers who destroyed the board and against miscreants who threw a stone at a police vehicle.
Terms of Reference of the Commission
1) The sequence of events at Bhima-Koregaon on January 1, 2018; causes and consequences
2) Whether any individual/group of individuals/organisation were responsible, directly or indirectly
3) Did the Pune district administration and the police prepare to ensure law and order
4) To fix responsibility with respect to points 2, 3, and 4
5) To recommend short term and long term measures to the district administration and the police prevent recurrence of such incidents
6) Any other important recommendations
Tale of the tape
An unprecedented amount of documents and number of witnesses keeps the commission on what is likely to be a permanent extension
Feb 2018: Maharashtra government appoints a judicial commission to probe the Bhima-Koregaon violence which took place on January 1, 2018, during the event held to mark the 200th anniversary of the Bhima-Koregaon battle in Pune district. One person died in the violence. The commission is also probing who, or which organisations, are responsible for the violence, and has to identify measures to prevent recurrence of such incidents.
May 2018 : The two-member committee visits the Vijay Stambh memorial and Vadhu Budruk village.
Nov 8, 2018: The state home department informed the commission that an extension has been granted to the commission till February 8, 2020. A letter in this regard was issued by the department on the said date. This is the fourth extension granted to the commission.
Nov 9, 2019: Koregaon Bhima Commission’s term ends and the panel submits a “status report” to the government, citing details of work done so far and what remains to be done.
As of today
The commission has examined 17 witnesses. At least 50 witnesses are needed to be called in before the commission
The commission has, so far, got three extensions — two for a period of four months each, and one for sixth months
The two-member commission, headed by retired High Court Justice Jay Narayan Patel and Sumit Malik, former chief secretary, initiated inquiry into the “exact sequence of the incidents, causes thereof, person(s) and organisation(s) responsible for the same, the role of the police machinery during the said period, and to identify the measures to prevent recurrence of such incidents which are definite matters of public importance”.
400 affidavits filed
Activists of various Dalit outfits, Hindutva organisations and a few registered NGOs; residents of Koregaon Bhima, Vadhu Budruk and Sanaswadi; victims from Thane, Mumbai and other districts; suspects arrested by Pune Rural Police including Hindutva leader Milind Ekbote; accused in Elgar Parishad case have filed affidavits before the commission
110 affidavits filed by government
As many as 110 affidavits of various government and police officials were submitted by advocate Shishir Hiray, who is representing the state. Hearing of witnesses who filed affidavits began in Mumbai from September 5, 2018.