60 notices but few responses to Kandhamal riots probe

By Byomakesh Biswal, IANS,

Bhubaneswar : The 2008 communal violence in Orissa’s Kandhamal district may have attracted heated debate, but the anxiety seems to have whittled away with political parties, religious groups and the media cold-shouldering the inquiry commission set up by the government.

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The one-man Justice Sarat Chandra Mohapatra inquiry panel has made virtually no headway in investigating the violence that followed the murder of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader on Aug 23, 2008. Thirty-eight people were killed and thousands of Christians displaced from their homes, leading to widespread concern with many blaming the government and investigating agencies for not doing enough in the matter.

But the concern did not translate into responses from the stakeholders.

“I have issued letters to all major political parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress and the ruling Biju Janata Dal, but most of them have not filed their statements before the commission yet,” Justice Mohapatra told IANS in an interview.

“Political parties certainly have a role in the inquiry process as there was a doubt raised about the working of the government machinery. But, except for the Communist Party of India, no other political party has come forward to file their responses,” he added.

There has been a tepid response from others as well. The commission issued about 60 notices, including to media organisations, political leaders, columnists and academics.

“I have issued letters to media organisations, columnists and professors who wrote articles on this issue. But two years have passed and I am still to get their submissions,” he said.

These include religious organisations who often make comments on the issue, Mohapatra added.

“I have issued notices to several Christian organisations. But I did not get desirable responses.”

“I have also issued notices to media organisations that reported the incident. But not a single media organisation has come forward to file its response yet,” he rued.

Amongst the few who did respond were tribal group Kui Samaj, Hindu rightwing organisation Hindu Jagaran Manch and the Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Raphael Cheenath.

“Some BJP leaders also filed their responses in their individual capacities,” he said.

The result of the tardy progress has meant that the commission, which was initially given six months and has already got three extensions, is still not ready with its report. The tenure of the Mohapatra investigation ends Sep 17, 2010, and another extension is inevitable.

“I am not at all happy with the pace of the probe. I need to find out the root of the matter. I need at least two more years to complete the probe,” Mohapatra said.

Kandhamal district, about 200 km from here, witnessed widespread violence after the murder of VHP leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides at his ashram on Aug 23, 2008.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the violence as a national shame as more than 25,000 Christians were displaced after their houses were attacked by rampaging mobs that held them responsible for Saraswati’s killing, although police blamed Maoist guerrillas.

Mohapatra, a former Orissa high court judge, was appointed in October the same year to probe the the murders and the subsequent violence.

(Byomakesh Biswal can be contacted at [email protected])