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Unjust Arrests and Detentions: Plight of Tamil Nadu Farmers in SIPCOT Protest

In the Tiruvannamalai district of Tamil Nadu, hundreds of farmers have been protesting peacefully for over 128 days against the government's plan to acquire 3000 acres of agricultural wetlands for the SIPCOT Industrial Park scheme. On November 4, 2023, around 2 AM police personals forcibly entered the houses of farmers and arrested 21 members and produced them before Cheyyar Judicial Magistrate remanded them in Vellore Central Prison subsequently they were transferred to Madurai, Palayamkottai, Trichy, Cuddalore and Salem central prisons. This incident reveal a disturbing pattern of police misconduct, false FIRs, and potential abuse of preventive detention laws. The arrests occurred without adherence to DK Basu guidelines and violated the principles outlined in the Supreme Court's Arnesh Kumar Vs. State of Bihar (2014) judgment. Despite the absence of conditions justifying arrest, the police, acting on instructions from higher officials, arrested key figures in the peaceful protest, including HRD Pachaiyappan. The protestors, including Pachaiyappan, were remanded to judicial custody based on an FIR (No. 324 of 2023) filed on August 29, 2023, during a public hearing organized by the district administration. The FIR included charges of unlawful assembly and other sections carrying a maximum punishment of 5 years. The Supreme Court's guidelines on remand under Section 41 A of the Criminal Procedure Code were disregarded. The police registered multiple FIRs against Pachaiyappan, creating a web of false charges, with ten FIRs in total. The arbitrary nature of these registrations, especially the five FIRs on August 28, 2023, within a few hours, points to an abuse of power and a lack of supervisory oversight by higher-ranking officers. This abuse has culminated in the prolonged detention of protestors. There was Concerns are raised about the possible invocation of the Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities Act, 1982 (Goondas Act) against the protestors, further intensifying the threat to their freedom. Despite the absence of a criminal history among the farmers, it is feared that the authorities are strategically using legal mechanisms to stifle dissent.

Every person has a the right to life and liberty enshrined under Article 21 of Indian Constitution 1950, Article 3 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, Article 6 of International covenant on civil and political rights, 1966. The Right to life includes right against arbitrary arrest or detention.

HRDA India strongly believes that registration of FIRs against the farmers HRD is an act of reprisal for their activism as a human right defender. Hence HRDA India urges NHRC to issue following recommendations-

  • To urgently invoke the Commission’s powers under section 12 (b) to intervene in the lower courts to squash the false FIRs against the peacefully protesting farmers and in any intervention in the high court challenging the detention.
  • To direct the Director General of Police Tamil Nadu to initiate an immediate, independent, thorough, transparent, effective, and impartial investigation into the illegal arrest of 21 farmers; on the basis of enquiry the action should be taken against errant police officials who filed fabricated cases and  submit report within 2  weeks.

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