What’s There in Page 423 of SKC?

By Prof. Madabhushi Sridhar

Committee for Consultations on the Situation in Andhra Pradesh (CCSAP) headed by Justice B. N. Srikrishna had a single most achievement of establishing peace during 2010, after the state witnessing turbulent agitations following the fast-unto-death by K Chandrasekhara Rao, President of Telangana Rashtrasamithi leading to 9th December declaration by Union Home Minister that process of forming Telangana state commenced and resignation spree of legislators from Coastal Andhra. Another responsibility fulfilled by CCSAP is wide-ranging consultation process, which should have preceded the December 9 declaration. Being just a home committee of Home department, CCSAP has no legal status of any sort. It is not a ‘commission’ under Commission of Inquiry Act, thus did not have a status of civil court and adverse commenting on its report cannot become ‘contempt of court’. The terms of reference are nothing but examining the demands of separate Telangana and united state, consulting all sections and making any recommendations. It was not meant even to perform a ‘fact-finding’ mission. Merely because it is headed by a former judge, it is not judicial enquiry.  The CCSAP did not follow the mechanism of examining the claims and checking them across unlike in judicial enquiry. It did not even adopt natural principles of justice necessitating avoiding departmental bias and hearing the other view to derive logical conclusions on contentious issues, which attracted criticism that it heavily depended on the reports made by the State Government. The final delivery of the CCSAP is neither a judgment nor a finding. Its report is gradually becoming a catalyst for generating controversies and kicking up agitation once again. Besides several blunders and errors reflecting callous report writing, the CCSAP made serious mistakes of allowing member-secretary to have secret deliberations with state officers and keeping a very substantial part of report ‘secret’. The gains of the Committee in achieving the peace and fulfilling obligation of making wide range consultations with all sections of people from three regions of Andhra Pradesh, might get vitiated by closed-door consultations with bureaucrats of state as evidenced by truncated Chapter 8 on law and order, of the Report itself.  Cumulative understanding of the entire narration leads to inference that the Union Home Ministry desired denial of Telangana state and suppression of any agitation as a consequence of breaching the commitment made on December 9.

It is very disturbing to know that the basis of ‘The Way Forward’ – the conclusion and solutions chapter of Srikrishna Committee (Committee for Consultations on the Situation in Andhra Pradesh), is maintained as top secret and the Ministry of Home Affairs made only incomplete report available to the people. The deliberations by senior bureaucrats of 17 districts in Andhra Pradesh, were not open to the full Committee but made only to Mr. V.K. Duggal, member secretary of the Committee. It creates an impression that the Government influenced the Committee through Ministry of Home Affairs using its former officer as the Member-Secretary. If true, it undermines the significance and respect of Mr. Justice Srikrishna Committee. The page 423(chapter eight) of Report is not in tune with the reputation of the head of the Committee, Mr. Justice Srikrishna as credible and independent judge and its members. Without Chapter 8 on Law and Order (which was given to Ministry of Home Affairs in sealed cover) the Report is incomplete and the people in general are denied access to substantial part which made the Committee to decide the way it has decided.

Neither this Committee nor the Government of India explained why and what is the secret about the deliberations of the police and other senior officers of state on a public issue like separate Telangana or united Andhra Pradesh? Why should they have one-to-one meeting with only Duggal when the Committee with five members headed by a former judge of Supreme Court is making a very serious and deep study of the political problem of separation of Andhra Pradesh? Is it not disrespect to the Committee in general and to Justice Srikrishna in particular?

The Union Home Minister Chidambaram invited on 6th January 2011, all AP political parties to national capital to deliver the copies of report without Chapter 8.  Even the Home Minister did not choose to share that chapter 8 with the leaders of the political parties from Andhra Pradesh, who are expected to formulate their views on the recommendations of the Committee. Though it may be reasonable for the Committee to report to MHA for keeping an important chapter secret from public, it is unreasonable for the MHA to retain it as secret.  What remained in the report was just a paragraph that is given in the box below.

Most Problematic and controversial page 423 of Srikrishna Report

8.1.01 During the Committee’s tenure, immediate law and order problems, and also the long-term internal security implications, including the growth of Maoist/Naxal activities were examined. These apprehensions had been expressed in the memoranda submitted by the Political Parties and various other groups, and also during interactions with different stake holders at the State level meetings as well as when the Committee visited the districts and villages. Besides, the Member Secretary had one to one discussions on this subject with senior officers of the State Government, Police Department and local administration (in seventeen districts). Inputs were also obtained from various other sources. A note on the above covering all aspects has been prepared and is being submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs in a separate cover along with this Report. The Committee has kept these dimensions in view while discussing various options included in Chapter 9 of the Report, i.e., “The Way Forward”.

This statement, which is the single page Chapter 8 of the Report, makes it obvious that the discussions with senior officers were not made in presence of full committee, and also that six districts are omitted, totally. As per the Report, the deliberations between Mr V. K. Duggal, member secretary of the Committee and former senior bureaucrat of Home Ministry, and bureaucrats of 17 districts, formed the ‘basis’ or considered by the Committee while offering six options in Chapter 9.  It is also not known which of those six districts are and why they are omitted.  Political parties and people in general are asked to decide the future course of action in dark as they do not have access to complete report.

This paragraph in page 423 is also very significant because entire conclusions were drawn based on deliberations of officers of seventeen districts to one individual officer, and that is expected to guide the Union Government in deciding the future of Telangana or Andhra Pradesh.

When the full committee is not taken into confidence and situation is not totally explained, how can it formulate final views (as told to Member Secretary and then by him to the Committee) as the basis for Chapter 9, which is final word of the entire report. The members of the committee were denied chance to cross check the points and figures mentioned in that confidential deliberation. It is neither proper nor in public interest to rely on such views, which are not openly discussed or verified. Not only that it excluded totally the other point of view, but also smacks of contempt for CCSAP, its head, Justice Srikrishna and respected members, the elected representatives, political parties, academicians, associations, and people in general who with great respect and expectations presented their points of view. (Since this CCSAP was not constituted under Commissions of Inquiry Act as a commission with a civil court status, the provisions of Contempt of Court Act, cannot be invoked to prosecute the persons attributing motives for the judgment) Though some groups including Telangana Rashtra Samithi were initially reluctant to present their arguments before the Committee, almost every political party, society and association have respected the Committee by presenting before it.

Keeping this part of the report of the Committee as secret is highly objectionable and against the principles of transparency in administration. The very purpose of the constitution of this committee is to make wide and open consultation with all sections and stake holders. That purpose is defeated when administration did not discuss with Committee in an open platform, but preferred secret deliberations with Duggal only. This secretive deliberations leads to a question that whether the committee was allowed to work with an open democratic frame at all?

It sends signals across the country that the substantial part of report is either penned or totally suggested by member secretary and wetted by Home Ministry. ‘Thus essentially it will lead to a conclusion that ‘the way forward’ (Chapter 9, the optimal solutions and options) must have been made out as desired by the Government of India. It will be difficult for the political parties and the people to consider these conclusions of the committee as they are substantially based on unrevealed reasons.  Such clandestine transfer of information does not facilitate the Committee to be independent on this highly contentious issue and might also provoke all sorts of rumors. The rumors will flourish as long as secrecy in public affairs continues.

Srikrishna’s tilt in favour of United State

There are two important sentences in the report, which strengthen doubts of efforts to suppress agitation for Telangana, if looked in the context of secret role played by Duggal. First statement is at page (iii) of prologue in paragraph 4, stating the final conclusion as:

“………the Committee found the balance tilting in favour of keeping the state united…..

Thus, in prologue, Committee made it very clear, which again reflected in option 6, described by committee as the best, continuing united state with constitutional safeguards for Telangana. This suggestion has to be seen in comparison with paragraph (e) of Option 5, at page number 453 in Chapter 9, which states:

“…The Committee is of the view that given the long history of the demand for a separate Telangana, the highly charged emotions at present and the likelihood of the agitation continuing in case the demand is not met (unless handled deftly, tactfully and firmly as discussed under option six), consideration has to be given to this option.”

From this paragraph it appears that the Committee fully supported the Home department’s view of treating the agitation for Telangana as ‘law and order’ problem and recommended to handle it ‘deftly, tactfully and firmly’. Only when the state fails in doing so, option 5- carving out Telangana has to be considered. Here the Committee states that it is discussed in option 6. When reader goes to option 6 of the Report, reads as follows:

“It is possible that the MLAs/MLCs and MPs belonging to different parties in Telangana may be pressurized to resign in order to create a political crisis. It would indeed pose a serious challenge to the leadership to deal with this immediate backlash and the agitations which are likely to continue for a period of time. This aspect has been covered at some length in the chapter on law and order and internal security implications.”

As the report stated that ‘this aspect was covered at some length in the chapter on law and order and internal security implications’, the reader is again directed to Chapter 8  only to reach a dead-end.  That Chapter 8 (page 423), as explained above is just one paragraph and whole of it is secret, which was only for Ministry of Home Affairs to read and act. Thus the Committee and its Report became conduit for the transmission of substantial information from administrators of 17 districts of Andhra Pradesh directly to the Home Ministry. It is very unfortunate.

While starting option 1 (maintaining status quo) at page 441, the Committee said:

“This (status quo) implies treating the issue as basically a law and order/public order challenge to be handled by the state government, not requiring any major intervention by the Union Government.”

Though it comes first in the list of options it is last and least in terms of preference as explained in the Report. Its negative aspect is – implication that agitation for Telangana is a ‘law and order’ problem, positive is – an advise not envisaging any role for paramilitary forces from the Union Government, which of course, the union defied.

The Report in option 6 suggested:

It is, however, also our anticipation that once the empowerment model as also the advantages of the state staying united have been understood by the people it would be possible for the Government to contain and control the agitational activities and take the state towards economic growth and progress.

Use of Force

It was in fact, very responsible way of suggesting that only when people are made to understand the benefits of staying united, it is possible to contain and control the agitation. But the apprehensions of suppression rise high with deployment of paramilitary forces and retaining the chapter 8 as secret till today. These deeds confirm apprehensions that the Congress governments both at center and state are considering this as law and order problem and using paramilitary forces to force a ‘solution’ instead of offering a Parliamentary resolution of the crisis, which was rightly suggested by Srikrishna Committee.

If the developing political situation in AP is any indication, the state might plunge into political turmoil and the power to rule might pass over into the hands of Governor, who is a former police officer. Coupled with confused conclusions, and contradictory options, the page 423 secret suggesting suppression of agitation as a law and order problem is undemocratic. This is totally favouring anti-Telangana lobby headed by coastal Andhra business-parliamentarians.

As the people have right to know the deliberations between Duggal and senior bureaucrats of the Andhra Pradesh, it is the foremost duty of the Government of India and Andhra Pradesh to immediately lift the veil of secrecy around chapter 8 on Law and Order in Srikrishna Report. Such a method of secrecy and indications of suppression are totally against the spirit of peaceful consultation process established by the Srikrishna Committee. It is the time for taking a decision as soon as possible to put an end to the turmoil and ensure the peace achieved by Srikrishna Committee when political governance failed. It is unreasonable to undermine that hard-earned result and provoking the people into turmoil again. They should assure the people that a) there will be no more secrets in giving people the report, b) the paramilitary forces will be withdrawn, c) a Parliamentary solution will be preferred, and d) their agitation, which is agreed by Committee as legitimate and justified, will not be suppressed by using armed forces

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