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Raising Spirits! Thousands of Tribals Jailed Under Excise Act Likely to be Freed in Chhattisgarh

A state government-appointed committee led by retired Supreme Court judge AK Patnaik has recommended that such cases of illegal liquor possession be withdrawn.

Vivek Trivedi | News18

Updated:October 31, 2019, 7:17 PM IST
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Raising Spirits! Thousands of Tribals Jailed Under Excise Act Likely to be Freed in Chhattisgarh
Representative Image (Reuters).

Raipur: The Congress government in Chhattisgarh looks set to offer amnesty to thousands of tribal people lodged in jails of Bastar and Rajnandgaon over violation of Excise Act provisions after a review committee recommended the step.

While several activists have lauded the development, saying this would bring relief to many locals who were incarcerated after being harassed and sometimes labelled as “Maoists”, some security analysts have urged the administration to exercise caution while implementing the step if it chooses to go ahead.

The path for the release of these tribals has been cleared by the state government- appointed committee which has advised the withdrawal of charges slapped on scores of locals under the Excise Act in recent years.

Speaking to News18, the head of the Congress media cell in Chhattisgarh, Shailesh Nitin Trivedi, said the previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Dr Raman Singh “inflicted atrocities” on the tribals and, after coming to power, the Bhupesh Baghel government had formed the committee to withdraw Excise Act cases lodged against those affected.

“It was unjustified that tribal people were arrested for keeping liquor, in accordance with their traditions and customs,” said Trivedi.

BJP spokesperson Sachidanand Upasane speaking to News18 rejected Congress accusations of atrocities saying state government functions as per the law and not out of personal enmity. The court would now look into the amnesty plea in these cases and if anyone innocent is exonerated by the court, it’s always welcome.

According to the terms of reference, all cases registered under the Indian Penal Code, National Security Act, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and other central laws along with the Chhattisgarh Excise Act, against more than 16,000 tribal people, were to be reviewed by the panel.

On Wednesday, the committee led by retired Supreme Court justice AK Patnaik met in state capital Raipur and, after discussions, decided to forward a recommendation that cases lodged against tribals over illegal liquor possession should be withdrawn.

Speaking to News18, Justice Patnaik said that the committee had deliberated on criminal cases registered against tribal people in seven Bastar districts and in Rajnandgaon, and most of the cases were related to the Excise Act.

In a large number of cases, those incarcerated were booked by the police for keeping liquor more than the permissible limit mostly out of ignorance and insufficient knowledge of law. So the committee decided to recommend pardon in these instances.

The exact number of such cases is not known but, according to estimates, there are over 8,000 of them in Bastar, as well as Rajnandgaon, the territory of former chief minister Dr Raman Singh.

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