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Orders Madhya Pradesh to constitute grievance redressal authorities in tribal districts
Taking cognisance of the large number of cases of illegal detentions, arbitrary arrests and filing of false cases against tribals, the Supreme Court has ordered the Madhya Pradesh government and the state High Court to constitute district-level grievance redressal authorities (GRAs) in the three tribal-dominated districts of Betul, Harda and Khandwa.
The order on August 13 came in response to a special leave petition filed by non-profit Shramik Adivasi Sangathan (SAS), alleging atrocities against tribal residents of the three districts as well as against SAS activists by government officials. The petition by Shamim Modi, SAS member and assistant professor at Tata Institute of Social Service in 2011, pointed out that officials including those from police and forest department burnt and looted settlements on the name of relocation, filed false cases of serious charges including dacoity and kidnapping against poor tribals, arrested minor children and denied bail in bailable offences. It also accused officials of the two departments of collusion with timber and mining mafias in the region, and failing to file FIRs and pursue complaints against forest officials, and imposing colonial practices like bigar (unpaid, coerced labour) on forest dwelling poor.
The order states that the GRAs will look into cases of atrocities in the past one year and submit its report to the district judge, state legal services authority and chief secretary with recommendations for action, including disciplinary action. The report of compliance of the apex court order will be placed before the court in its next hearing in November, 2012.
Arrests to be reported in 24 hours
The court has also made it mandatory for officials to report in writing to the district GRA and district legal services authority arrest of any tribal within 24 hours. They will also be bound to provide free legal aid to tribals.
The responsibility for appointing chairpersons of GRAs will rest with the chief justice of the Madhya Pradesh High Court, who will appoint a retired district judge as head each district GRA. The chairperson will then make recommendations for the remaining four members in consultation with the lokyukta and the chairpersons of the state human rights and public service commissions. The authorities must be constituted by October 15, and notification in this regard is to be issued by state government. The state government will also be required to publicise the constitution of these bodies and their function widely through print and electronic media in the three above-mentioned districts.
“This is the first time the apex court has explored the possibility of grievance redressal authorities to address issues arising out of abuse of power by police and other officials. The cases we have presented before court in our petition are just the tip of the iceberg,” says Modi.