On July 13th, 2021, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) filed its final report on the post-poll violence in West Bengal in the Calcutta High Court. Earlier, the court had taken cognizance of a preliminary report filed by the NHRC panel on July 2, which mentioned allegations of rape, murder and arson. The panel was then given more time to visit more of affected districts, meet more complainants and file the final report on July 13.
The enquiry committee was initially assisted by two operational teams of investigation division of NHRC to visit various places for inspection into the alleged incidents of post-poll violence in the state of West Bengal. As the number of complaints was very high and incidents were reported from whole of the state, the teams were revised and instead of two, the Chairperson-NHRC and the head of the enquiry committee reconstituted the composition the teams and five teams were formed. To augment the strength of the enquiry committee, two more teams were added later on. Hence, in addition to seven teams of personnel from NHRC, teams under the leadership of the Head of the Committee, the Vice Chairperson- National Commission for Minorities (NCM), the member- National Commission for Women (NCW) and DG-NHRC were also formed in order to cover maximum areas of the state from where complaints had been received.
The operational teams of NHRC consisting of one SSP, two assistant Registrars (law), nine DySPs, thirteen inspectors, ten constables, 2 JRCs and other secretarial staffers were sent immediately to different areas of the state to carry out field visits. The Head of the Enquiry Committee, Rajiv Jain, HM-NHRC, Vice-Chairperson, Atif Rasheed of National Commission For Minorities, HM- National Commission for Women, Rajulben Desai, DG-NHRC, Santosh Mehta, Member Secretary State Legal Services Authority (SLSA), Raju Mukherjee, Registrar SHRC Pradip Kumar Panja and DIG NHRC, Manzil Saini also carried out field visits to several places and conducted discreet enquiries into important and grievous incidents without disclosing their locations and tour programmes. Camp sittings were also organized by the committee members at places like Kolkata, Purba Medinipur, Howrah, East Burdhaman, Murshidabad. The grievances of the victims were personally heard and complaints were noted. The committee members also met the police officers in various districts, visited police stations to get the official figures of crime and enquire into specific cases to seek the police version and action taken into the incidents.
In its report, the NHRC has categorically stated that the scale of the incidents is widespread and extensive across whole of West Bengal and that this kind of a spot inspection and state-wide enquiry was unprecedented and was handled by the NHRC for the first time. The report mentions, how despite constraints of manpower and resources, the enquiry teams worked day and night to cover 311 spots and visited the same in a span of 20 days. NHRC mentioned in the report how very limited assistance was sought from the West Bengal government as the nature of the enquiry conducted was discreet and the allegations were leveled against state police and administration. The NHRC team preferred to take cover of CRPF security and the local police was taken only for things like route guidance.
As stated in the report, a large number of complaints pertaining to the post-poll violence was received and collected by NHRC Enquiry Committee. According to the report, the NHRC received 1650 complaints consisting of 5000 victims approximately. Another list of complaints received by the West Bengal SLSA (State Legal Services Authority) was 315 in number which covered approximately 9949 victims. A few complaints were also received from the West Bengal- State Human Rights Commission through e-mail which was 18 in number. Another list of 57 complaints related to women was received from the National Commission for Women. In its report, the NHRC has mentioned that during the period from 24th June to 10th July, the teams tried to cover large number of affected areas and also interacted with a large number of victims/complainants, though not all the incidents could be covered. The districts and areas to be visited were categorized and were prioritized according to the gravity of the offences committed like murders, rapes or large-scale vandalism; intensity and the volume of the cases; and the complaints of police collusion or inaction.
The report shows analysis of the data collected from all the sources which were carried out to make a broad assessment of the overall scenario in terms of intensity and frequency of cases. It was observed that very large number of complaints wasreceived from the districts of Cooch Behar, Birbhum, Purba Burdhaman, North 24 Parganas, South 24 Parganas and Kolkata. While within the administrative districts, the most affected police districts were those like Baruipur, Bashirhat, Barrackpore and Diamond Harbour.
The NHRC report also carried the analysis of the crime data as received from DGP Head Quarters from 2 May, 2021 to 20 June, 2021 and deduced that the percentage of accused arrested out of those cited and the percentage of accused who were still in custody was abysmally low, which showed the inept performance of the local police and that there was no deterrence for criminal elements. The report explained how in the cases which were officially reported by the police, the number of arrests made was way less and in contrast to the large scale violence and huge number of accused in most cases. It also revealed that cases were not investigated on priority and, in many cases the sections invoked were not commensurate to the gravity of the offences that were made. The report stated that less than 3% of the accused were in jail while 97% were out in the open, making a mockery of the whole system. The report said that it was clearly evident that the police was working under influence and in a biased manner and did not have the courage to take action against looming goons belonging to the ruling dispensation.
The NHRC stated that out of the 311 spot enquiries conducted by its teams, in as many as 188 instances, which comprises a whopping 60%, FIRs were not registered by the police at all. Even in the 123 cases wherein FIRs had been registered, in as many as 33 cases (27%), police had resorted to dilution by using milder sections of law. When the NHRC teams visited these 311 locations, additionally, 2869 victims approached them with petitions requesting for enquiry and registration of cases, which is a massive 900% or nine times of the victims covered by the teams. The report summarized that for 123 cases registered by the police, there were another 3057 number of complainants whose cases were either not registered by the police or the cases were diluted or the police was not accessible to them. Therefore, they wanted the NHRC teams to enquire into their issues.
In its final report, the NHRC lambasted the TMC saying, “This was retributive violence by supporters of the ruling party against supporters of the main opposition party.” The report also said, “The committee has recommended that grievous offences like rape and murder should be handed over to the CBI for investigation and these cases should be tried outside the state.”
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