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Mahanta at the helm of secret killings in Assam: Saikia Commission

Sushanta Talukdar

Guwahati: The Justice K.N. Saikia Commission has indicted the former Chief Minister Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, the then police hierarchy and the Home Ministry for the “extra-constitutional killings” which occurred in Assam during 1998-2001. “There is enough evidence to show that the then Home Minister was at the helm of these extra-constitutional killings,” the one-man Commission said. Mr. Mahanta, who was heading the Asom Gana Parishad-led government, was also Home Minister during this period.

The report of the Commission, constituted by the State government to probe the “secret killings” of family members of leaders and cadres of the United Liberation Front of Asom, was tabled in the Assembly by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on Thursday.

About the motive behind the “secret killings,” the Commission said it was “perpetuation of the AGP rule by villainy, treachery and monstrous cruelty and dangerous propensity.”

“Remote orchestration”

The common characteristics of the cases and evidence “prove beyond reasonable doubt, remote orchestration of killing from the Home Ministry, through police-SULFA [surrendered ULFA] nexus using some SULFAs as the striking arms or executioners. The authority may be held liable and be dealt with according to law.”

The Commission recommended to the government “to try to first keep in abeyance, and then gradually dismantle” the Unified Command structure of the Army, the Assam police and the Central paramilitary forces as an immediate measure to prevent recurrence of such killings.

The Commission observed some common characteristics — each killing involved an ULFA family or an ULFA related family, the investigations mostly fizzling out or ending in Final Reports or investigations pending, but no clue. No charge sheet was submitted in any case. Most of the killings occurred at dead of night, and the assailants invariably spoke in Assamese to wake up the victims.

“The assailants were invariably armed with sophisticated firearms of prohibited bores, and masked with black wrappers or caps to avoid being identified,” the report said. The weapons used in the killings were invariably firearms of different sizes, bores and calibres, mostly of prohibited bores normally found in police-military situations. As firearms with prohibited bores were used, forensic/ballistic examinations of exhibits were mostly avoided or unduly delayed, and the investigation ultimately fizzled out. The vehicles used were mostly Maruti Gypsies and vans and always without registration numbers. There was police patrolling in the crime areas prior to and after, but not during the killings.

Army ubiquitous

The Army was ubiquitous. “By Army, we mean the armed forces of the Union deployed in Assam in aid of civil power. There was lurking evidence of police-SULFA nexus in the killings, some of the latter being constituted as an extra-constitutional authority and used as executioners. The modus operandi being to visit the family, ask members to persuade its ULFA members to surrender, failing which, to send an advance team to survey the location and structure of the house, then to send armed and masked men at dead of night, knock at the door to wake up the inmates and then drag him/them out and shoot him/them dead, or take him/them away and secretly kill and throw the bodies somewhere.”

The report said there was “general resentment” against the Unified Command Structure/Chief Minister.”

In its action taken report, the government said it accepted the Commission’s recommendation to revive 20 cases for re-investigation. As for keeping in abeyance and gradually dismantling the Unified Command structure, it said the recommendation would be considered in conjunction with the prevailing situation at the time of the tri-monthly review of the structure.

Another report tabled

The government also tabled the preliminary report of the Justice J.N. Sharma Commission, constituted prior to the setting up of the Saikia Commission.

Justice Sharma said he was not able to identify the killers and accomplices, and pinpoint responsibility.

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