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Rediff.com  » News » Bhima Koregaon Commission To Shift Base To Pune

Bhima Koregaon Commission To Shift Base To Pune

By JYOTI PUNWANI
June 17, 2023 19:37 IST
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This is just another instance of the indifference with which the Commission has been treated by the government.
Jyoti Punwani reports.

IMAGE: A protest in Mumbai, March 26, 2018, to demand action against those who instigated the violence following the Elgar Parishad in Pune on January 1, 2018.
 

The two-member Commission inquiring into the violence that took place at and around Bhima Koregaon on January 1, 2018, will now function only from Pune.

Headed by retired Justice J N Patel, the Bhima Koregaon Commission set up in February 2018, has been holding its hearings both in Mumbai and Pune.

Violence broke out on january 1, 2018, when thousands of Dalits made their way towards Bhima Koregaon to mark the 200th anniversary of the historic battle that had taken place there in which the British, with the help of Mahar soldiers, had defeated the Peshwas. The Dalits were attacked by saffron flag-wielding mobs. A riot broke out in which one youth was killed.

In protest, a State-wide bandh was observed by Dalit groups on January 3, which also saw violence.

The resultant furore led to the setting up of the Commission.

Even when it was set up, the Commission was not granted space by the Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP-Shiv Sena government. It functioned from the office of Sumit Mullick, the Chief Information Commissioner, Maharashtra, who was also the second member of the Commission. Mullick retired in April.

Despite the Commission alerting the government about having to vacate his office, it was simply told to search for premises on its own.

The Commission therefore thought it best to shift its administrative office to Pune, where it functions from the Zilla Parishad office. However, it will continue holding hearings in Mumbai.

***

This is just another instance of the indifference with which the Commission has been treated by the government.

Initially, hearings were held in a tiny room in the premises of the Information Commission in Mantralaya. More often than not, lawyers and reporters had to stand at the back throughout the hearings.

Requests to the government to find larger adequate premises were ignored. It was only after the Covid pandemic, when social distancing became a rule, that the government allowed hearings to take place in one of the huge halls in its Sahyadri Guest House.

This wasn't the only aspect in which the government showed its disdain for the Commission.

In January 2020, the Commission announced it was winding up as salaries to its staff had not been paid for more than two months, its budgetary requirements had been arbitrarily slashed and its superintendent humiliated by Mantralaya officers.

Soon after, Covid struck and the lockdown was imposed.

The Commission has finished examining public witnesses and victims of the violence, local historians and social activists, and is currently examining police officers who were then dealing with the events that took place in Bhima Koregaon and Pune. It expects to wind up within six months -- if it gets another extension.

Interestingly, depositions made so far reveal two things:

1. The violence was preceded by a caste clash in a village near Bhima Koregaon.

2. On January 1, 2018, the violence began with stone throwing on Dalits by mobs wielding saffron flags.

None of the public witnesses have spoken of any link between the violence and the speeches made at the Elgar Parishad, held a day earlier on December 31, 2017 in Pune. This public meeting was organised by two retired judges and a range of Dalit organizations, to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle of Bhima Koregaon.

However, this alleged link forms the basis of the Bhima Koregaon case, in which 16 intellectuals have been made accused and spent years in jail.

The ongoing depositions of policemen are therefore crucial to the task of the Commission.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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