On September 10, 2022, four tribal villagers were arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and falsely prosecuted for cultivating land in the vicinity of Bagdara sanctuary in Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh. The victims identified as Nandkishore, Shivram, Gulab Singh, and Mulayam Kol, who are tribals & residents of Khamhardih village, in their police complaint alleged that they have been cultivating lands under Sanjay Gandhi Tiger Reserve for several years. But on September 10, when they were working in the fields, officials of the Bagdara sanctuary identified as Manoj Katariya (SDO of Sanjay Gandhi Tiger reserve), Ranger Ramkaran Singh, and 38 others held them captive. They took them to Kharkhauli outpost where they were allegedly abused and assaulted. Later the four tribals were reportedly shown arrested for illegal farming inside the Bagdara sanctuary and produced before the magistrate.
Arrest, torture, harassment, and false prosecution of tribals for cultivating their land are serious human rights violations. As per Section 3(1)(p) of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, whoever not being a Scheduled Tribe/Schedule Caste, “institutes false, malicious or vexatious suit or criminal or other legal proceedings against a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe” is a publishable offence.
Taking serious note of the incident, the Indigenous Rights Advocacy Centre (IRAC) has sought the immediate intervention of the National Human Rights Council (NHRC) and requested the Commission to intervene in the matter by taking the following measures:
- Direct the state government of Madhya Pradesh to order a high-level investigation into the allegations and submit an action taken report within four weeks;
- Direct the state government of Madhya Pradesh to register the FIR filed by the four tribal victims and arrest and prosecute the accused forest officials under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and other laws;
- Direct the state government of Madhya Pradesh to withdraw the charges against the four tribals and drop all proceedings which may be ongoing before the court and/or any other authority;
- Direct the state government of Madhya Pradesh to pay compensation to the tribal victims for illegal arrest and custodial assault/torture under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995;
- Direct the state government of Madhya Pradesh to grant pattas to the four tribals under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 so that they can cultivate their land without any harassment from the officials;