June 19, 2022

Assam: Political Parties Submit Memorandum to Governor

Isfaqur Rahman

SEVEN political parties of the state of Assam, namely the Indian National Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)-Liberation,   Assam Jatiya Parishad, Raijor Dal and Anchalik Gana Marcha, jointly presented a memorandum to the governor of Assam on 15 June, at Raj Bhavan in Guwahati demanding a high-level commission of inquiry headed by a high court sitting judge to inquire into the growing incidents of extrajudicial killings--so-called 'encounter killings' and custodial deaths in Assam since the assumption of office by the BJP-led Himanta Biswa Sarma government in May 2021.

These seven parties also demanded a speedy inquiry by the CBI under the supervision of the Gauhati High Court to unearth the PPE(Personal Protection Equipment) kit scandal that rocks Assam since the recent exposure of the scam by two investigative media outlets---' The Wire' and 'The Cross Current'. The business firm of the current chief minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma's wife and their family business friend were allegedly given contracts during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 to supply PPE kits at exorbitant prices while Sarma was the health minister. All norms were reportedly flouted by the health department while awarding contracts for the supply of medical equipment during the pandemic.

Although the appointment with the opposition parties was fixed by Raj Bhavan earlier, the governor could not personally meet the delegation due to his ill health and deputed his deputy secretary for meeting the delegation and receiving the joint memorandum.

The delegation comprised Manjit Mahanta and Mira Borthakur- APCC, Suprakash Talukdar and Isfaqur Rahman – CPI(M), Munin Mahanta and ChakreswarKalita -CPI, Pankaj Das and Naren Borah CPI(ML) -Liberation, Raju Phukan and Prince Faizul Haque - Assam Jatiya Parishad, Ghanashyam Nath-Raijor Dal and Pranab Jyoti Chetia -AnchalikGanaMarcha.

Text of the Memorandum:

We, on behalf of the state units of our respective political parties, namely the Indian National Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist),  Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)-Liberation,   Assam Jatiya Parishad, Raijor Dal and AnchalikGanaMarcha, would like to draw your kind attention to the following and solicit your immediate intervention :

(1) With mounting outrage and indignations, we express our shock and consternation at the increasing incidents of extrajudicial killings in Assam in the name of 'encounters'. The deaths in police custody in the state have assumed alarming proportions in recent times.

(2) According to the union home ministry, as stated in the Parliament on  February 8, 2022, in the period between January 1, 2017, and January 31, 2022, at least 50 encounter killings were reported in the state of Assam, which is the third-highest in India.

(3) What is more shocking, after the assumption of power by the BJP-led HimantaBiswaSarma government in May 2021 , the abominable incidents of encounter killings are rising rapidly. The Assam government had to file an affidavit before the Hon'ble Gauhati High Court in February 2022 and said, a total of 28 people were killed and 73 were injured in police action since May 10, the day the HimantaBiswaSarma-led government took the oath of office, till January 28 this year. Now the figure has risen abruptly and at least 47 people died due to the so-called 'encounters' since May 10, 2021.

(4) The state government has even failed to submit a proper affidavit before the Hon'ble Gauhati HC with regard to encounter killings in Assam. The government had to seek time for submission of the affidavit time and again. In the hearing on May 11, 2022, the court had to grant three weeks' time to the state government to file an affidavit. But on June 7, 2022, too, the government has failed to submit the same and sought more time. 

(5) Disturbingly enough, no independent investigations took place in order to find the cause and circumstances of police firing or any 'accident' which led to custodial death/injury of the victims/accused.

(6) We have reasons to believe, that the so-called 'encounter killings' are being patronised by the ruling dispensation under the leadership of the chief minister, HimantaBiswaSarma.

(7) We would like to draw your attention to the latest and most horrific incidents of custodial death and encounter killing that occurred in the Batadrava area under the Nagaon district :

That Sir,
(a) On the night of May 20, 2022, Safiqul Islam, a local fish seller in the Salanabari area under Nagaon district, was arrested by police and was kept under custody at Batadrava Police Station. Later, the police allegedly demanded a ransom amount of Rs 10,000 from Safiqul's wife in exchange for his release. Having failed to pay the ransom amount, the wife found the posthumous body of her husband Safiqul in the post-mortem room of Nagaon Civil Hospital the next day. When the news of custodial death spread like wildfire, a section of the enraged villagers came to the Batadrava Police Station and a crowd of about 40 people organised a demonstration. The agitation continued for hours together and the police did precious little to control the agitating crowd in time. Taking full advantage of police inaction, some miscreants set fire and burnt down the police station.
After the highly condemnable incident of arson, the law enforcement machinery took law into its own hands and retaliated the next morning by bulldozing the houses of five people accused of involvement in the arson. They also arrested the family members of Safiqul Islam and other accused persons suspected to be involved in the incident of arson.

(b) Ashiqul Islam, a higher secondary level student of Sonaibara village in Juria area of Nagaon district accused of instigating the Batadrava arson case, got killed in the wee hours of May 30,  2022, while allegedly trying to flee from police custody. It may be noted, that Islam had surrendered to the police on May 29. The police said, Ashiqul Islam jumped out of a car and was run over by an escort vehicle. It may be recalled, in December 2021, Niraj Das, an accused in the lynching of a student leader in Jorhat, had died in a similar fashion — run over by a police vehicle while he was allegedly trying to escape custody.

(8) A closer look at the list of those killed in 'encounters' throws up certain patterns--most of the killed belonged to religious or ethnic minorities. Moreover, the police version of the custodial deaths follows a familiar script in almost every case: the dead man was shot as he tried to snatch service weapons or was trying to escape custody. Of late, the police has been using 'accident' as a cover up for fake encounters. We believe, most of the cases are  concocted or stage-managed. We, therefore, firmly reject police versions.

(9) It is our considered opinion that the BJP-led state government has launched vicious and orchestrated communal campaigns to polarise people on religious lines. Seeds of mutual distrust, ill faith and ill feelings are being sown day in and day out. The incidents of encounters are being communally designed and portrayed with their own communal narratives and hate speeches. These are aimed at disrupting people's unity, communal amity and social fabric of Assam. Religious minorities in particular are being made the target of attack and hate campaigns.

(10) The egregious acts of the brutalised law enforcing machinery in Assam are instances of flagrant violation of the fundamental right to life and open defiance of law. The judicial processes and rule of law are being trampled down with impunity. The police administration has been taking law into its own hands at the behest of the present dispensation.

(11) In addition to the extrajudicial killings, we would also like to draw your attention to the series of investigative reports by two media outlets -- 'The Wire' and 'The Crosscurrent' --which have exposed that serious scams took place for purchasing PPE kits during the peak of Covid pandemic in Assam in 2020. The alleged corruption which gave contracts to a firm of the current chief minister, HimantaBiswaSarma's wife and a family business friend to supply PPE kits while Sarma was the health minister has been unearthed with a fact sheet. All norms were reportedly flouted by the Health department while awarding contracts for the supply of medical equipment to fight COVID-19.

We, therefore, demand a speedy investigation by CBI under the supervision and monitoring of the Gauhati High Court to reveal the facts and punish all those who were involved in the PPE kit scam.

We, the above-mentioned parties, jointly urge you to use your good offices as constitutional head of the state with all seriousness at your command and to look into the issues raised by the parties.

We place before you the following demands and solicit immediate actions from your end:

(a) The extrajudicial killings in Assam be immediately stopped and Constitutional values and the rule of law be restored. The guidelines of the Hon'ble Supreme Court and National Human Rights Commission with regard to custodial deaths/encounter killings be strictly followed.

(b) A high-level commission of inquiry headed by a High Court sitting judge be instituted to inquire into the incidents of encounter killings and custodial deaths.

(c) Adequate compensation is given to the families of the victims of encounter killings and custodial deaths.

(d) Strongest actions be taken against the guilty police officials responsible for extrajudicial killings. The police personnel involved in encounter killings are brought to book and charged with culpable homicide.

(e) Strict legal procedures be initiated and lawful actions be taken against the offenders involved in the incident of arson at Batadrava Police Station.

(f) A speedy inquiry by the CBI  under the supervision of the Gauhati High Court be instituted to unearth the PPE kit scandal in Assam and immediate lawful actions are taken against the guilty persons involved in the scam.

The signatories to the memorandum include Mira Borthakur-Assam Pradesh Congress Committee, Suprakash Talukdar - CPI(M), Munin Mahanta - CPI, RubulSarma - CPI(ML)-Liberation, Raju Phukan- Assam Jatiya Parishad, Ghanashyam Nath- Raijor Dal, and Pranab Jyoti Chetia- AnchalikGanaMarcha.