Call for Release of Mahesh Raut arrested with 5 others on 6th of June 2018

We are a group of researchers, organizations and individuals, associated with CFR Learning and Advocacy process (CFR-LA), working on natural resource governance and management; community based conservation; and implementation of rights based legislations such as the Forest Rights Act 2006 and Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 towards empowering local gram sabhas to conserve, manage and use forests. On June 6th 2018, Maharashtra police arrested Mahesh Raut, one of our associates and fellow-workers, working in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra, along with five other people.  All of these people are prominent, well-known faces in the struggle for social justice in India.  Mahesh Raut, in particular, is a former Prime Minister’s Rural Development Fellow (PMRD). During his sincere work as a PMRD fellow he came across the atrocities against and struggles of the forest dependent tribal communities in Gadchiroli whose cultural and livelihood security heavily depends on the rich surrounding forests. Since then he has been working on strengthening local self governance institutions and the constitutional and human rights of adivasi communities in the district. He has been supporting local gram sabhas’ struggles for establishment of their community forest rights, including village ownership and sale of tendu patta and bamboo.  He has tirelessly worked at legal and constitutional empowerment of the gram sabhas in many ways including by reaching the provisions of laws such as Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996 (PESA), Rules 2014; Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act 2006 (FRA) and Forest Conservation Act 1980 (FCA) to the local gram sabhas.

It is important to note here that while PESA and FRA are leading to economic and social empowerment of the local gram sabhas, in violation of these very laws the forests in this district are being leased by the government for iron ore mining to various corporations. These include the Surjagad hills, considered sacred by the Madia Gond community. The ongoing and proposed iron ore mining in Gadchiroli is and will destroy over 15000 ha of rich, old growth and dense forests creating an ecological imbalance. Mining is already leading to dispossession, disempowerment and cultural annihilation of the tribal people. These ongoing and proposed leases are therefore facing strong resistance from the local gram sabhas, hundreds of gram sabhas have sent letters and resolutions passed under the above mentioned laws (empowering them to reject such destructive projects) to protect their forests from destruction. These letters and resolutions have been sent to the district administration, Governor’s office, Chief Minister’s office and even to the Ministry of Tribal Affairs in Delhi. There has been no response from the administration to their letters. For this resistance the villagers are paying a heavy cost with constant harassment making everyday living impossible and allegations of being aligning with the Maoist. In these difficult circumstances Mahesh and his colleagues have bravely and constantly supported the local villagers using all legal, social, and cultural spaces and where needed and possible liaisoning with the district and state administrations and other government and non government agencies. Mahesh and his colleagues have also been vocal and outspoken about the atrocities and harassment being faced by the gram sabhas which are resisting mining. Their tireless efforts has helped the local gram sabhas strengthen themselves legally and constitutionally and provided a national visibility to the issue of mining and harassment being faced by those resisting it.

For this support, Mahesh and his colleagues have been constantly targeted and have faced allegations of being Maoist, Maoist supporter, among others, for which they have not been able to provide any evidence. We believe that his current arrest despite there being no evidence of his involvement in planning the Elgar Parishad is a continuation of the same. Mahesh has been arrested under the FIR registered on 8 January, 2018 at Vishram Baug Police Station, Pune with regard to Elgar Parishad organizing the Bhima-Koregaon Shaurya Din Prerna Abhiyan in Pune on 31 December, 2017. This FIR, originally registered u/s 153(A), 505 (1)(b), 117 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), was turned into a conspiracy case in March 2018 and now has had sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) added to it. The arrests have been made under UAPA, which has several draconian provisions that ensure detention of up to six months without any evidence required and make it difficult to obtain bail. In support of their allegation the police has not been able to produce a single piece of evidence in court as yet, except for two letters that they claim were discovered from Mr. Rona Wilson’s laptop, which the Police themselves have said are not yet unverified.

We condemn this act of targeting those who have been working for basic and constitutional human and democratic rights and use of undemocratic provisions of the UAPA on them. For last few months Mahesh has been recuperating from ulcerative colitis and an enlarged liver, he has been advised a very specific diet and rest, none of which are being provided in the police lock up.

We demand Mahesh Raut’s immediate release considering lack of evidence about his involvement in planning the Elgar Parishad for which he is arrested and also given his delicate health.  Till his release all the specific dietary requirements and medicines that he has been on for last few months must be allowed to him.

Signed by

Pratibha Shinde, Lok Sangharsha Morcha, Nandurbar

Neema Pathak Broome and Meenal Tatpati, Kalpavriksh

Ashish Kothari and Shruti Ajit, Kalpavriksh

Purnima Upadhyay, KHOJ, Partwada

Sharad Lele, Fellow at ATREE

Anuja Date, Researcher at ATREE

K.J.Joy, associated with SOPPECOM

Seema Kulkarni, associated with SOPPECOM

Geetanjoy Sahu, Professor at TISS

Tushar Dash, Independent Researcher

Sanghamitra Dubey, Independent Researcher

Radhika Chitkara, Independent Researcher

  1. B. Giri, Independent Researcher

Soma KP, researcher and policy analyst

Nandini Sundar, Professor, Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics

Dr. Amitha Bachan K. H, Western Ghats Hornbill Foundation