NHRC announced an Interim Relief of Rs. 2 crore 80 lakh to 89 victims of atrocities by Joint Special Task Force (JSTF) in the States of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu

For the people of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, it was a Pongal gift this year, as the National Human Rights Commission announced its recommendations for an Interim Relief of Rs. 2 crore 80 lakh to the 89 victims of atrocities committed by the Joint Special Task Force (JSTF) set up by two States to apprehend the forest brigand Veerappan. The announcement was made at a specially convened Press Conference on January 15, 2007 by the Acting Chairperson of the Commission Dr. Justice Shivaraj V. Patil.

Earlier, on December 7, 2006 the Chief Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu and Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Karnataka appeared before the Commission and conveyed that both the governments were ready and willing to respect the decision/recommendations to be made by the Commission with regard to the interim relief to the victims of atrocities alleged to have been committed by the JSTF.

It may be recalled that taking cognizance of the complaints, the Commission in its proceedings held on June 18, 1999 noted that it is essential to constitute a panel of two eminent persons, one drawn from the judiciary and the other having experienced at the highest level of police to look into all relevant aspects of the allegations made in the complaint. The complaints related to large scale harassment to the villagers and tribals in the border areas of the two States and gross violation of their human rights.

Consequently, the Commission constituted the panel of inquiry with Hon'ble Mr. Justice A. J. Sadashiva, former Judge of Karnataka High Court as Chairman and Shri C.V. Narasimhan, former CBI Director as Member to enquire into the matter and make its recommendations to the Commission. The panel during its inquiry recorded the statements of 243 persons, including 193 alleged victims, 4 representatives of NGOs and 38 police officers. Many alleged victims of JSTF atrocities sought permission to depose before the panel. DGP, Karnataka and DGP, Tamil Nadu also raised objections before Justice Sadashiva panel in regard to the scope of inquiry to be held by the panel.

Justice Sadashiva panel sought a clarification from the Commission whether the inquiry should be confined to the cases registered with NHRC. The Commission clarified that the task of the inquiry panel is akin to that of a local Commission appointed by a Court and the panel should examine all those who depose before it. The Commission said the question of scope would be decided later.

The inquiry panel submitted its report on December 1, 2003. The Commission considered the report submitted by the panel and said that there is no reason why the report should not be accepted. The Commission also stressed that it is not inclined to accept the submission made on behalf of the two States that the inquiry panel should have confined its inquiry only to the cases referred by NHRC. The Commission said that its primary concern is to protect the human rights of the citizens. It said " if the inquiry was to be restricted only against 15-20 persons, if would be great travesty of justice and negation of human rights of the tribals and others living in the area of anti Veerappan operations by the Joint Special Task Force".

As directed by the Commission, the report of Justice Sadashiva panel was sent to the two State Governments for their comments. The two governments submitted their response and raised some technical objections. When impressed upon by the Commission that the approach should be one of respect for precious human rights, compassion and not technical, the two governments paid heed to the advise of the Commission. The interim relief announced has been divided into different categories depending on the atrocities. The atrocities by JSTF include rape, assault, application of electric current, outrage of modesty, illegal detention, torture-leading to permanent disability, detaining in camps and subjection to torture before former arrest and prosecution under TADA. The panel also found that one person was taken into custody by STF but did not return and 36 persons had been killed in suspicious encounters by the STF.