The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) on Sunday appealed to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to provide “immediate protection” to tribals of Sundergarh district in Odisha, alleging that they are being tortured by the police for opposing the State government’s move to bring tribal villages in the district under the Rourkela municipal corporation. The PUCL’s complaint said the residents of Jagda, Jhartarang, Suidihi and other villages in Sundergarh have been protesting ever since the government issued the notification in 2013 because the district is governed under Schedule V of the Constitution, framed to protect tribals in the Scheduled Areas of nine States.
The notification would facilitate the “illegal inclusion” of their panchayats in the Rourkela municipal corporation to develop Rourkela. “The government’s intention… is to bring Rourkela under the ‘Smart City’ project, and thus the process to forcibly acquire additional land was initiated,” said Atindriyo Chakrabarty, a Kolkata lawyer who accompanied the PUCL’s fact-finding team to the area.
Sharanya Nayak, a PUCL member in Odisha, mailed the complaint to the NHRC on Sunday.
Although district officials assured them of help and two MLAs supported the economic blockade the villagers had imposed, the police arrested 72 tribals from various places on January 20, the PUCL said. The residents alleged that the police entered villages on January 20 and beat them up, without sparing women and children, and warned of atrocities against the women. Although 12 women were freed on bail, four FIRs were registered, with charges of attempt to murder, against some villagers, who have gone into hiding, the PUCL has said.
Union Minister for Tribal Affairs Juel Oram has urged Odisha Minister for Housing and Urban Development Pushpendra Singh Deo to “examine the matter afresh.”
“They [the villagers] have further alleged that the areas which are far from Rourkela town have been included in the proposed municipal corporation,” Mr. Oram said in his letter.