For lack of evidence, few among the 150 persons held for Maoist links in the last 7 years have been prosecuted

Over the past seven years, as many as 150 persons have been arrested by Maharashtra over alleged Maoist links but have languished in custody for lack of legal prosecution, many subsequently even being acquitted.

In 2008, the total strength of the “Naxal barrack” in Nagpur Central Jail, where the “Maoist prisoners” are held, was 168. Today, however, “only 37 Naxal prisoners are left in the Naxal barrack”, according to advocate Surendra Gadling, who has been representing those accused of having Maoist links.

Most of these people have been charged with involvement in “Maoist violence” in the State’s Gadchiroli-Gondia area and acting as “the urban front” for the Maoists.

“Police slapped multiple cases on all these people, most of whom were activists fighting for Tribal or Dalit rights or against displacement. At times, the accused faced 60 to 70 cases under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act [UAPA] or for waging war against the state and sedition charges,” says Mr. Gadling.

In most of these cases, the accused persons were acquitted after police failed to establish their alleged Maoist connection.

“We were targeted and victimised for holding a contrary opinion to that of the State,” claims Arun Ferreira, a social activist from Mumbai, who was acquitted in 14 Maoist-related cases and is out on bail in one case.

According to Sudhir Dhawale, who was released from jail recently along with nine other persons accused of supporting Maoists, “The state is opposed to Dalits and labourers. Those who fight against displacement due to so-called development works are being labelled as Maoists and locked up in jail. It’s an attempt to stop the movements against state-imposed displacement”.

Trumped-up charges

Advocate Gadling says the police knew even before arresting these people that there was no evidence against them.

“That’s the reason they slap a number of cases [on the arrested persons]. There have been instances when an accused was acquitted in all the cases but was re-arrested at the gate of the Jail while being released and charged with more cases,” informs the advocate.

‘Lack of witnesses’

However, Ravindra Kadam, Special Inspector General (IG) of Police, Nagpur range, who has been in charge of the Maoist-affected Gadchiroli-Gondia area for many years, maintains that all the arrested persons were part of “the Communist Party of India (Maoist) urban wings”.

“We have not been able to prosecute them because of the lack of evidence. Due to Maoist terror, no eye-witness dare to come out and testify and the court does not accept the witness of surrendered Maoists for being an ‘interested party’,” Mr. Kadam told The Hindu.

In recent years, police could prosecute only two accused.

Vernon Gonsalvis and Shridhar Srinivasan were convicted by a fast-track court in Nagpur under the Arms Act.

However, the court acquitted both of them of the Maoist-related charges.