Delayed, it has been, but will justice for tribals be denied?

The City Centre shopping mall in Pandri Market area is a symbol of a booming Raipur – where real estate prices shoot up every week and new structures spring up every few months showcasing the city’s affluence.

Near the mall is a three-storey rotunda. The silence and the lack of activity in an office in this building is a testimony to the cause it serves – delivering justice to the families of 21 tribals killed in “anti-Maoist operations” by security forces in Silger, Sarkeguda and Chimlipenta on June 28-29. Many have challenged official claims of Maoist presence in the villages when the forces fired on tribals.

Appointed by the Chattisgarh government in July after a week of protests and agitations, the Judicial Commission hasn’t started its investigation, over five months after the encounters. The office itself was allocated only in early November.

On Monday, Justice (Retd) V K Agarwal, who heads the Commission, visited the office as it was being set up. “Within a week we will issue a notification and work will start. Hearings will take place as well,” assured Justice Agarwal.

The commission has four rooms on the second floor of the rotunda that also houses the state Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. The judge’s chamber, with a couple of settees, looks basic. The staff-cum-waiting room is still in bit of a mess and broken chests lie haphazardly at the centre of the huge hall. The rest room is not in a position to serve guests. Justice Agarwal instructed the staff to put up a board with the Commission’s name on it. He also asked for signposts on the stairs to direct people to the (Commission) office. “These small things create big issues,” he told his slim workforce while touring the office. Getting suitable accommodation for Justice Agarwal is another challenge. Justice Agarwal lives in Bhopal and many activists say it will not be possible for him to run a commission in Raipur from Bhopal. Justice Agarwal refused to accept the non-availability of a residence as a roadblock. “It is not an issue. I can get those anytime,” he said.

The government had planned to appoint employees from other departments to the Commission. Apparently it was not an easy job, as no one seemed

too keen to serve a judicial commission. In a circular issued on October 12, five persons, two stenographers and three peons, were attached to the Commission by the Raipur collector. But two of the staff did not turn up during Justice Agarwal’s visit on Monday.

It has taken close to half a year to find an office and provide barebones furniture for the Commission. Time will tell if the Commission in Raipur will deliver justice to tribals living nearly 500 km away.