On 22 March, Ravindra Velip, a 27-year old Panchayat member in Goa, was arrested, along with other villagers, for protesting and stopping trucks transporting iron ore through his village. He was taken to a state prison under judicial custody. On 24 March, when Velip was released on bail, he emerged from the jail with multiple fractures on his arm and injuries elsewhere.
Why was Velip attacked? What exactly happened inside the jail? Who is responsible?
These questions have blown into a sordid affair, engulfing a mining company, the BJP-led state government and one of its MLAs. The state government so far denies that anything happened. Police have refused to file a First Information Report (FIR). The state government has been dragged to the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), as well as the National Commission of Scheduled Tribes (Velip belongs to a Scheduled Tribe).
Goa was notoriously known for illegal iron ore mining, before extraction was banned by the Supreme Court in 2012. For many Goans, the attack on Velip has brought back grim memories of the days of the illegal mining, and human rights violations of those who objected to it.
In 2012, the Supreme Court banned iron ore mining in Goa, after it found large-scale illegalities in the ore extraction, amounting to a scam to the tune of Rs 35,000 crore. Then chief minister Digambar Kamat (of the Congress party) was believed to be involved.
But in November of 2013, the Court ordered that all iron ore, which had been mined out before the ban, be auctioned off. This ore was otherwise lying around idly at the mining sites.
Velip is a panch (one of five members) in Caurem-Pirla gram panchayat, in South Goa’s Quepem taluka. Caurem (also spelt Cawrem) is in the heart of Goa’s mining belt. His village lies in the path of the trucks coming from mines, including one owned by the Fomento Group, one of the biggest mining companies in Goa. Velip had led his panchayat to pass a resolution in May of 2014, to not allow private contractors from transporting the ore.
Velip, along with others, objecting to the e-auction of iron ore, claim that the mining, as well as the auction be handed over to a local cooperative society. This, so that the profits can be shared among the locals. This would also keep excessive mining under check, as those most affected by its harmful consequences would be in control of it.
On 19 February, 2016, Velip moved another resolution in the Panchayat objecting to plans to take the ore from Bategal mines to a jetty at Capxem. So far no iron ore had been transported out. But on 20 March, Velip came to know that ore was being transported. This coincided with a local tribal festival called Shigmo.
On 21 March, Velip, along with seven other activists tried to stop trucks coming from the Femento mine. They were arrested and released.
On 22 March, they were arrested again; this time they were taken to the Sada sub-jail. The attack on Velip took place the next morning.
Velip claims that on 23 March, he was beaten up inside premises of the jail. The NGO he is associated with, Federation of Rainbow Warriors, set up a fact-finding team consisting of their member John Fernandes, advocate Nandita Haksar, and law professor at NALSAR Amita Dhanda.
The team, in its report, states that Velip was assaulted in the Sada sub-jail on 23 March. He was jailed with four other activists, and they shared a jail cell on the first floor of the jail.
On the fateful morning, as Velip went to the toilet, he was attacked by four men who blindfolded him, gagged him, and carried him downstairs.
The team, in its report, states that Ravindra Velip was assaulted in the Sada sub-jail (Goa) on 23 March
“He was lifted up and thrown crashing down on the cement floor with such violence that he sustained serious injuries, including multiple fractures in the left forearm and severe pain in the neck and back,” the report says.
“From the place where he was being beaten the Warder’s station was very near but he failed to respond to the loud screams; the prisoners in Cell No 10 could not have witnessed the attack from their cell,” it adds.
CCTV or no CCTV?
The prison has denied this incident happened. They claim CCTV cameras were not working on that day.
Speaking to Catch, Velip says that he personally saw two CCTV cameras around where he was attacked – one in the passage and another in the jailer’s cabin – both of which were working.
The Inspector General of Prisons, Elvis Gomes, ordered an inquiry into the incident.
The report was submitted to Goa chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar, but has been kept confidential.
Parsekar ordered a magisterial probe under the North Goa district collector, apparently citing “discrepancies” between the IG Prisons’ report and Velip’s complaint.
The police haven’t filed an FIR yet. Initially they said they were waiting for the IG’s inquiry report to be submitted.
This is against the law, according to the fact finding team. Its report says that under Section 124 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the police is mandated to file an FIR for such offences, and that this was upheld by the Supreme Court in a November, 2013, judgement (Lalita Kumari vs Govt.Of U.P.& Ors).
Who is suspected to have carried out the attack?
Velip and other activists blame the attack on a nexus between the mining industry and the state government. Within the industry, he blames the Fomento Group.
The state has been against Velip and his village’s plans to transfer control of mining and ore transportation to the cooperative society. The government has not registered the society.
On 16 March, Goa’s Department of Mines wrote a strongly worded letter to the panchayat on its resolutions demanding control over the mining operations. It said that this doesn’t fall under the Panchayat’s duties as outlined in the Constitution. The letter demands that the panchayat declare the resolutions null and void. The letter also asks the panchayat to “convey to the Panch member” and that if any hindrance is caused to the movement of ore, “necessary action shall be initiated against them.”
Velip also blames the Member of Legislative Assembly from that constituency, Subhash Phal Dessai, who belongs to the BJP. Dessai is known to have been associated with transportation of ore since the mining days. According to his declaration of assets filed in 2014, he personally owns 18 trucks.
“So far, no government official has come to me to record any statement. Neither from the Prisons department nor from the police,” Velip told Catch.
Velip said that he will be moving the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes on Monday, 4 April. He has already filed a complaint with the SHRC.
Goa Foundation, which had filed the petition in Supreme Court that led to the 2012 ban on mining, denounced the attack.
“Unless the local villagers are involved in all those mining activities for which they have capacity, they can never be expected to support mining. By assaulting even these persons who are not against mining per se, but who wish to ensure it is done by directly benefitting the local tribal community, those behind yesterday’s assault are only creating more problems for themselves and their activity in the state,” the Goa Foundation’s director Claude Alvares said in a statement.
The attack has brought back memories of the days of mining. In 2013, the National Human Rights Commission concluded that the Goa government had violated human rights of 737 villagers who were protesting illegal mining. These villagers were also arrested by police for blocking ore transport.
The article was originally published in Catch News, April 2, 2016.