BeyondHeadlines News Desk
New Delhi: The Supreme Court has ordered Food Commissioners N C Saxena and Harsh Mandar to visit three interior villages of Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada District along with the collector. This comes on a day when a delegation of 10 Congress party legislators made a bid to reach the villages but were turned back citing “security concerns,” 50 kilometres short of their destination.
The three villages – Tadmetla, Morepalli and Teemapuram – have been in the news since March 23 when two newspapers reported that nearly 300 homes here have been allegedly burnt by special police officers. Five days later, a hindi daily reported that six people had died in Morepalli village due to starvation. The villages lie in an area controlled by Maoists and bereft of any civil administration.
While food rations and relief material sent by the administration reached the villages, no senior official has visited yet. On March 26, en route to distribute relief, social activist Swami Agnivesh and journalists were attacked by a mob in Dornapal, that allegedly comprised special police officers in civilian clothes and Salwa Judum members. The same evening, in damage control mode, the government transferred both the senior superintendent of police and the collector of Dantewada.
But the siege like situation continues. On Wednesday, 10 Congress MLAs travelled to Dantewada to visit the villages but could not proceed beyond Polampalli. Bastar Commissioner K Srinivasulu and Inspector General of Police T J Longkumer were travelling with the group. “They blocked our path, citing security concerns. We said we would go ahead even if they did not provide security. They finally arrested and detained us,” said Nand Kumar Patel, Congress MLA.
“The police had inputs of disturbances ahead,” said Srinivasulu, justifying the decision. “Besides it was already 2 pm, and it would not be safe to travel on an interior road in the evening”. (According to one account, the back window his official car was smashed by stone pelted by a group of Salwa Judum supporters. But Srinivasulu said his car was parked near a school and ascribed the ‘minor damage to the glass’ to mischievous school children).
On Monday, the Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar had read out a statement in Vidhan Sabha, claiming the villages had been burnt by Maoists, not by the police. Nand Kumar Patel said by obstructing members of the opposition and the media, the government was simply trying to cover up excesses by the police. “Is there any place in the country which is made as inaccessible?,” said Patel.
Given the Supreme Court directive, it would now become mandatory for Chhattisgarh government to faciliate a visit of the food commissioners, who would assess the reported hunger deaths, and report back to the apex court. The SC directive came in the ongoing hearing in the petition by the Right to Food campaign.