Orissa assures apex court of Christians’ safety

September 4th, 2008 - 8:21 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Sep 4 (IANS) The Orissa government Thursday assured the Supreme Court of the safety of Christians in the state and that it would not allow a Hindu group to take out a rally on Sunday for carrying the ashes of slain leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in Kandhamal district.Appearing for the Orissa government, senior counsel K.K. Venugopal told the bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan that the government would not allow any procession to enter the state and that he had asked for four additional battalions of the Central Reserved Police Force to tackle any situation, a demand which was acceded to.

“The state government will ensure that no untoward incident takes place in the state and if there is any procession in Kandhamal district, it will be suppressed,” Venugopal told the bench, which also included Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice J.M. Panchal.

Venugopal gave the assurance to the court on a plea by Cuttack Archbishop Raphel Cheenath urging for the safety of Christians following the killing of Saraswati and his four associates on Aug 23 in Kandhamal.

Taking note of the “solemn pledge” by the state government, the bench hoped that it would keep its word.

“We hope the state police and CRPF will ensure that law and order is maintained. The state will deploy sufficient central paramilitary forces and no outsiders will be allowed to visit the relief camps” where Christians who fled their homes in the wake of the communal clashes are staying, the bench said.

“As regards the yatra (procession), the state police and the paramilitary forces will ensure that any untoward incident is prevented,” the bench said.

Earlier, indicating that Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Praveen Togadia would be arrested the moment he tries to enter the state to lead the procession, Venugopal said, “The government will ensure that no procession enters the state.”

Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam, representing the union government, acceded to the demand for more paramilitary forces.

Appearing for Archbishop Cheenath, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves contended that the Orissa government counsel was talking of preventing processions from entering the state in a “tongue-in-cheek” manner without categorically assuring the court that it would ban the procession.

Taking offence to the “tongue-in-cheek” phrase used by Gonsalves, Venugopal told the bench that prohibitory orders under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code has already been imposed in Kandhamal district.

“I don’t know what else the counsel wants the government to do?”, said Venugopal.

Earlier, he had informed the court of the details of deployment of paramilitary forces and said that soon after Saraswati was killed on Aug 23 night, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik spoke to union Home Minister Shivraj Patil and sought additional forces.

Venugopal said additional paramilitary forces were rushed to the state from Guwahati, Hyderabad, Ranchi and Jamshedpur. The forces could reach only by Aug 26 and were promptly deployed, he said.

Earlier, Subramaniam told the bench that there was adequate deployment of paramilitary forces in the state, but “the situation was undoubtedly tense”.

He also opposed the proposed Sep 7 procession saying “the situation is quite tense and the people have a sense of fear. Any type of yatra will have serious repercussions”.

The Cuttack archbishop had sought the apex court’s intervention for the safety of Christians while terming the communal violence “of genocidal proportions”.

“The primary reason for this communal violence is intolerance by certain groups of a particular political persuasion,” he said in his petition.

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