Former senior bureaucrats ask Uttarakhand Chief Secretary to act fairly, demand impartial probe into the violence and illegal actions of government functionaries

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By SMA Kazmi

DEHRADUN–A group of 83 senior retired civil servants including former bureaucrats, police officers and diplomats in a letter to the Uttarakhand Chief Secretary Radha Raturi has expressed their deep concern at the recent disturbing developments in the state following violence at Haldwani and requested her to take urgent action to prevent the situation from deteriorating further, provide relief to the affected citizens of Haldwani, ensure that all citizens of the state feel safe and that the administration is perceived to be neutral in enforcing the law.

In their letter, they demanded that the curfew should be lifted from all areas, and relief provided to the affected families of those areas, with particular attention to the needs of children, daily wage workers and those who are unwell.

They further demanded compensation be provided immediately to those killed and injured, covering both government staff and local citizens.

Former senior bureaucrats also demanded an impartial judicial enquiry into the Haldwani incident and subsequent actions by the administration as they believed that the current magisterial inquiry by the Kumaon Divisional Commissioner is insufficient to convey the appearance of impartiality.

“All allegations of illegal actions and violence, including illegal acts by government functionaries, be impartially investigated,” they demanded.

Condemning the violence of 8 February 2024, the former officials expressed their deep sympathies with the families of the citizens who lost their lives, and with the police, administrative personnel and ordinary citizens who were injured. However, they pointed out that serious questions have been raised about the actions of the administration.

They said that Banbhulpura area of Haldwani was under a stringent curfew and internet ban for eight days as of 16 February, although the curfew has now reportedly been lifted during the daytime. Thousands of families have been confined to their houses and do not have access to regular health care, their places of work, schools for their children or markets. This would have terrible impacts on children, the elderly, women and the unwell, the letter stated.

The former officers said that under law, a curfew is imposed to prevent imminent danger to life and public order. When the administration claimed to have brought the situation under control on the night of February 8th itself, and there has been no violence or threat to law and order since then, there was no reason for this curfew to be continued for so long.

The letter further said that there were credible press reports that police have been beating residents (including women and children) and damaging property in the area, as well as detaining people without informing their families as to where they are being taken or producing them before magistrates.

There are also reports that over 300 families have fled the area and these allegations require immediate investigation.

“It has also been reported that rather than providing relief, the administration has been selling food in the area, which is mostly inhabited by extremely poor families who live on daily wages,” the letter said.

The former senior officers expressed deep concern that the events of February 8 appear to have been followed by an increase in hate crimes in the state. Local residents have reported that Muslim shopkeepers in other parts of Haldwani – such as Fatehpur and Kamaluaganja – have been forcibly prevented from opening their shops. On February 11th, a rally was taken out in Dharchula, Pithoragarh district demanding that “out-siders” be removed from the town after an alleged harassment incident (despite the fact that the two accused had already been arrested).

The signatories of the letter wrote that similar rallies in May and June 2023 had led to dozens of families being forced to flee and a situation of high tension in Uttarkashi district.

They also expressed concern that on February 15th, bulldozers were used to demolish part of the home of an accused in Kashipur in a sexual harassment case. “It is apparent from the news coverage that this was done with no notice to the owners of the home, in violation of law. It also appears that no such action has been taken in any other incident of sexual harassment in the state, and raises concern that this illegal action was only taken because the accused is a member of the minority community,” the letter stated.

The signatories drew the attention to their earlier letters of 12 June 2023 and 18 July 2023, in which they had raised the concern about a violent and criminal campaign targeting the minority community that appeared to be underway in the state.

Incidents of violence took place, including the vandalism and destruction of shops in the towns of Purola, Badkot and Haldwani, and, as noted, a climate of such terror was created that families fled, most of whom appear to have not been able to return.

“It is deeply disturbing that no action at all appears to have been taken on these incidents. Individuals involved in dozens of incidents of hate speech have not even been prosecuted, and no one has been arrested till date for these serious crimes. The law must not only be enforced equally for all, it must also, in the public perception, be seen as being equally enforced for all individuals and sections of society,” letter said.

Finally, the signatories drew the attention of the Chief Secretary to questions that have arisen with regard to the conduct of the administration on February 8th. “It is not disputed that notice of eviction was given on January 30th, and that under the applicable law (the Uttar Pradesh Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1972), a minimum of ten days’ notice followed by thirty days’ time to evacuate the premises is required to be given. However, despite less than a week passing, the administration took possession of the structures and sealed them on the night of February 4th.”

It has been reported that Haldwani City Magistrate informed the media in a WhatsApp group post that demolition had been paused pending a verdict of the High Court. It has also been reported that the Local Intelligence Unit specifically warned on multiple occasions that any eviction operation could result in law and order problems, and hence, if undertaken, religious symbols should be respected and the operation should only be undertaken in the morning with adequate preparation. Despite all this, on the afternoon of February 8th, without any preparation, the structures were demolished and the violent incidents followed. All of this appears to indicate a hasty, partisan approach of the administration, which placed both the local population and the police and other administrative functionaries at risk, the letter stated.

The former officials also requested that the orders of the Supreme Court regarding hate speech and mob violence be immediately enforced in Uttarakhand and the government take immediate steps to ensure that all its actions convey a message of security to all citizens of the state, regardless of religious community.

The signatories wrote that their group comprising former civil servants have came together because, having been sworn to safeguard constitutional values throughout their careers, they were alarmed by the erosion of these values in politics and governance and felt it necessary to speak out and publicly register their concerns. They said that while their concerns have been directed primarily at the political class so far, increasingly, they have seen that the administration has often been complicit in ignoring or disregarding its constitutional obligations and worse, aiding and abetting the abuse of law and the use of administrative machinery for partisan political ends aimed at humiliating and demoralising members of the minority community.

They pointed out that this should happen in a State like Uttarakhand, which never had the slightest vestige of communal tension and disharmony and where the administration was known for its exemplary record of fairness, impartiality and sensitivity to the concerns of the minority community, has caused them acute distress.

“We hope that reports that even the higher levels of administration have been complicit in allowing the communal situation to deteriorate are not true and that, as the head of the State administration, you would take immediate action to restore the confidence of the people in its fairness and its commitment to justice and the rule of law,” they hoped.

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