Of late, there have been incidents regarding activists, who are essentially fighting for people’s issues, whether it is double tracking in South Goa or farmers in Pissurlem, where it is being felt that there is retaliation from the State has been disproportionate to the people’s cause and the reasons why people have taken to the streets.
People, who have been victimised, feel that the State has been overtly coercive in bringing down people’s protests. But the State says that the law has been used judiciously to quell any kind of “anti-social activities”.
One such example is of farmer activist and leader from Pissurlem, Hanumant Parab. Parab has been at the receiving end of the law. He has been in the forefront to protect the farm lands of Pissurlem and ensure that mining trucks don’t pass through the fields illegally.
For doing so, he was brutally thrashed in the premises of Valpoi Police Station in March 2022. His complaint against the police has still not been converted into an FIR. Parab knocked on many doors, including the PMO and the President’s office. He has even gone to the Human Rights Commission and Police Complaints Authority, amongst others.
Now recently, Parab was listed as a history sheeter (person with criminal record) by Goa Police in run up to the G20 meetings in the State, which has raised the hackles.
Various social activists from Goa have vociferously criticised the police for listing Hanumant Parab in the history sheet and expressed concerns over the “trend of vengeance” being seen in the State. They also demanded removal of Parab’s name from the history sheet.
They have gone on record saying that if activists are made history sheeter, no one will come ahead for initiating a social change. They even fear that today Parab has been named in the history sheet, tomorrow it could be them.
Does this indicate that people’s activism in the State is being increasingly stonewalled? People feel that laws are being stretched by the State to rein in people's movements. How correct is this perception?
Alex Rasquinha, retired Superintendent of Police said, “The real meaning of history sheet is a record maintained in police stations about active property criminals. The police officer of that police station during night rounds has to check whether they are in their homes or not. The main purpose of having a history sheet was to keep a watch on those having a record in property
Adv Caroline Colaco, Criminal and Human Rights Lawyer, said that the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) doesn’t have any provision for ‘history sheet’.
“If you go through the Police Manual of various States, it has the concept of a history sheet, which is a colonial legacy that has remained in use till now. Police use this as a record of miscreants known for disturbing public peace and harmony. Such people can be put under police surveillance. Under that, it would be perhaps justified. But, there is no mention of it in the Goa Police Manual. Just lifting a concept from the Bombay Police Manual isn’t justifiable,” Adv Colaco said.
Former SP Rasquinha said that even after 60 years of Liberation, Goa doesn’t have its own Police Manual. “We still follow The Bombay Police Manual, 1959. We are also following Delhi Police Act,” he said.
Adv Colaco said there is no legal backing for creation of a history sheet, either in the law or even in a borrowed concept.
“The second thing is, if we look at the concept of history sheet, the way it has been dealt with by various courts in the country, they have in numerous judgments stated that it is open to arbitrariness as there is no clarity regarding who should be called a history sheeter. Is it a person who is convicted or someone who just has a FIR against him?” she said.
Citing the example of Hanumant Parab, the human rights lawyer said, “Let us assume that he has even five cases against him, but is he a trouble maker? Is he breaching peace all over Goa? His fight is limited to mining protests largely, which is restricted to his village. He is not protesting all over Goa that he needs to be contained because of the G20 meeting. It is against our constitutional rights and the law.”
In the Gajendra Singh alias Chotu versus State of Goa judgement in April 8, 2019 by the High Court, citing its judgement in the Ajju C S versus State of Goa and others in Criminal Writ Petition No 215/2017 dated February 27, 2018, stated that there is no law in existence in Goa covering this area discretion of the police authority. No document is shown to the court that the Bombay Police Manual is adopted in the State of Goa.
“It is held that as of today, the police officers are opening a history sheet and placing the people under surveillance in the State of Goa, without there being any authority whatsoever. This position cannot be countenanced in view of the dicta of the Apex Court in the case of K S Puttaswamy and another versus Union of India and Others (AIR 1963, SC 1295). This Court accordingly directed by way of an interim order, that the surveillance on the petitioner shall cease,” the High Court had stated.
Hanumant Parab got a notice under Section 149 of CrPC, which is not a history sheet notification. Parab got a notification on April 12, asking him to be present at the police station on April 13.
Speaking of the experience at the police station after going there, Parab said, “After being called to the police station on April 13, I met the Police Inspector and asked him why I was called. That time he told me that I had been listed as a history sheeter and a police constable would visit my house to see me soon. Then I asked him the reason for treating me like this, since I wasn’t a criminal. Incidentally, he was the same PI who beat me up in the police station.”
“I applied for the order read out by the PI from the file. It has been 12 days and there hasn’t been any communication. When I insisted upon getting the order copy, the PI asked me to get it through the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Why should I apply under RTI when it is a document pertaining to me? I should be given a copy of it upfront,”
According to Advocate Colaco, the notice sent to Parab comes under the purview of Section 151 and not 149 of CrPC. Section 151 is used for preventive detention. Section 149 is the precursor to Section 151, under which the police can issue a notice prior to arrest. There is nothing illegal about this notice. However, there have been notices issued to activists previously as well.
“The courts have held that even while giving such notices, the police should have reasonable apprehension. It can’t issue such notices arbitrarily. There has to be a strong basis for having such an apprehension. For example, what did Parab do in the last few days to be issued with such a notice? Just because he was involved in a situation one year back, can he be booked again when there is nothing to show that he had committed any cognizable offence in this intervening period? Is he involved in any kind of activity currently for the police to suspect that it will impact the G20 meetings?” she asked.
She said that the same Section 134 was used against the anti-Mollem activists and it was challenged effectively in the court. It was said that when a person issues a notice under Section 149 or arrests under 151, even the Mamletdar can’t just order arrest under this Section.
Under Section 151 one has to release the detainee within 24 hours by furnishing a bond. Entire case gets over in six months. It is not a criminal case.
“However, the courts have held that if there is a reasonable reason to impose these Sections, then there has to be a proper inquiry and give the basis under which a person has been booked under the aforesaid laws,” Adv Colaco said.
Citing an example, she said that Captain Viriato Fernandes’ arrest was challenged in the Sessions Court and the court had held that the notice was illegal and a detailed judgement was given against his arrest on December 19, 2020. He was picked up by the police stating he would breach the peace.
“‘Breach of peace’ is a very broad term. Give the reason. There has to be a legal background or a law to say that Section 149 is being imposed on a person. If there is no backup from the Police Manual or nothing is there in the CrPC, then there is no concept of a history sheet. This is just a way to browbeat and threaten someone,” she said.
Veteran political observer, Trajano D’Mello, said that the political side of this issue is that there isn’t any legal deterrent in a single case that would prompt the police and government to think twice before misusing the law.
“Even if you see, nothing has happened in the case of custodial deaths. The amount of mental harassment Hanumant Parab and his family are facing is unfathomable. There are thousands of such cases going on. This has to be stopped,” he said.
Most of the victims of police harassment are those who don’t have the money or political power to fight back. They need to make rounds of police stations and feel harassed. This is something that has been happening under all governments.
It is not pertaining to any one particular government. But shouldn’t governments take the lead in ensuring that there needs to be a fair approach towards how the police treat the common man, especially when it is clear in most of these cases that those who are facing the police action are mainly activists who are against large projects and are not criminals.
BJP spokesperson Premanand Mahambare, in his response said, “My government has no direct hand in this issue. Whenever such events like the G20 summit is held, there is a general order that the police department has to maintain peace. When such orders are issued, some police officers tend to get over enthusiastic and take such steps. They should be able to make a judgment of the situation on their own on what to do or not to do. The officers, starting from the top to bottom, should make the assessment more objectively.”
According to him, the police have two important roles to play in these conditions. One is to maintain peace and order. But at the same time, they should ensure that no one is unduly harassed. The police have to strike a balance between the two.
“Sometimes, I too have faced this kind of harassment. I have faced such instances as a member of the opposition party. That is why I am saying that the police have to be more judicious in its approach,” Mahambre said.
When it is absolutely clear that the subordinate officer is not behaving in accordance with the law and misusing the law to harass the common man because of the obvious problems they had with the person earlier, the least that should have been done is the notice could have been withdrawn. Why hasn’t the system acted?
“This shows that those who are trying to stop the destruction of the State, are being charged for disturbing the peace of the government,” D’Mello said.
Adv Colaco said that one could have accepted the “over enthusiasm” remark had it been an isolated case, pertaining to any one police station.
“But there have been repeated instances of police excesses against social activists. Today, the Right to Dissent, Right to Protest and Right to Assemble Peacefully - guaranteed in our Constitution - are being completely ignored,” she said.
When pointed out that there are many more “over enthusiastic” police officers who tend to book social activists leading mass protests against large projects, Premanand Mahambre said, “Anything which is being done legitimately and a disturbance is caused, then naturally there will be action. What is wrong with it? You can’t charge an entire gathering of protesters comprising 5,000 people. The police will act only against the instigators of this disturbance.”
Denying that this amounts to selective targeting, Mahambre said that people have the right to hold peaceful protests. But if certain legitimate work is being hampered, then action has to be taken.
However, it may be recollected that in all the cases where arrests were during mass protests – be it coal, double tracking or even against mining trucks in Pissurlem – in none of the cases, the ongoing work was stopped.
Advocate Colaco added by saying that the activists did not gather for protesting suddenly. They had initially approached the concerned authorities, seeking their intervention. It was inaction from the government officials that forced the activists to take to the streets.
“In each of the cases, activists explained in detail the damage that would be caused by some of these projects like coal transportation. Even if one assumes that the activists are wrong in their perception about a project, that can’t take away their legitimate right to protest peacefully,” the Criminal and Human Rights lawyer said.
Disagreeing with Adv Colcaco, Mahambre said that no one is being prevented from protesting. But the aftermath has a direct impact on the ongoing work.
“The work should go on. Ultimately the State wants a particular project to come through. Government may perceive that these protests will disrupt the work and delay its completion,” the BJP spokesperson said.
Sharing his thoughts on the matter, farmer leader Hanumant Parab said that in the Pissurlem mining trucks case, he had submitted memorandums to the Deputy Collector, Mamletdar and the local Police Inspector.
“I had filed a petition in the court seeking release of water for desilting our paddy fields and compensation to the farmers as the fields had been destroyed due to mining. We had even met the Chief Minister. He said that we should meet the Deputy Collector and he will resolve our problems,” Parab said.
“Till now we are facing a drinking water issue. They beat me inside the police station just to harass me and allow e-auction of iron ore mining pits to carry on. We then approached Dr Claude Alvares, who then filed a petition in the High Court of Bombay at Goa. The High Court banned all e-auctions as it was illegal. But till date the mine owners haven’t been booked, although they destroyed our water resources and fields. Rather, we are being punished. Two cases were filed against us on the same day by the police,” the farmer activist said.
Advocate Colcaco said that people are left with no option but to protest.
“In Melauli, women were sitting continuously for days against the IIT. They even wrote letters to the village panchayat asking it to explain about IIT and how they would gain from it. Even the gram sabha demanded to know about the project. They even wrote to various government authorities to explain to them about the IIT project. But there was no response and complete stonewalling of information,” she said.
Due to lack of transparency regarding the project, the villagers continued to protest and then suddenly they were assaulted. Around 40 of them were arrested and are still facing serious charges, including Section 307, which is attempt to murder.
“They were just sitting in one place and protesting. But the police charged them with attempt to murder! Chargesheet has been filed against them and the trial will start against them. They have to go to court on every hearing date. Some of them include elderly people. Their only crime is they asked for information about IIT, how much area it would cover and how it would help them,” she lamented.
“These agricultural fields are the only source of income for the locals. So, they are entitled to know how they would benefit once they forgo their land for the project,” the activist said.
Mahambre said that while putting serious charges against the protesters is not justified, they were offered land at an alternate site so that they could cultivate there.
“Activists from other places came and instigated the locals. Government would have certainly given them a good compensation package. As per police report, these protesters were carrying weapons like koyta. That is why perhaps they were charged under Section 307 of IPC. They were instigated. They were offered a compensation package,” Mahambre said.
Advocate Adv Caroline Colaco said that this is a clear attempt to silence the voices
“It also causes a lot of hardships to these people as they have to travel to court from faraway places and in case they miss the hearing date, bailable warrants are issued against them. This is complete harassment,” she said.
While those involved in serious crimes like drug dealers, land grabbers are roaming around. Not a single land grabber is behind the bars. There is a SIT investigating the land grabbing case but chargesheets are yet to be filed. There is a full-fledged drug nexus operating in the State with full protections from the powers to be, including police stations.
If the law was as strong as it was against drug dealers and land grabbers the same way it has been against the social activists for people’s issues, maybe Goa would have been a safer place. But is the government really listening? The establishment needs to get its priorities right.