Lal commission report gathers dust as coalition plans to free Tikapur convictAuthorities have snubbed the top court and parliament to keep the report secret.
The Sher Bahadur Deuba administration’s move to amend the penal code through an ordinance to clear legal hurdles for pardoning politicians convicted of heinous crimes has met with widespread criticism.
The caretaker government has been accused of misusing ordinance to create the ground for the release of Resham Chaudhary, a former lawmaker who is currently in jail after being convicted in the 2015 Tikapur killings. The ruling coalition, which is short of two seats to prove majority in Parliament and form a new government, is seeking the backing of the Nagarik Unmukti Party of Ranjita Shrestha, Chaudhary’s wife. Shrestha has set her husband’s release as a precondition for joining the coalition.
Chaudhary was convicted of masterminding the 2015 killings by the Kailali district court in March 2019 and the decision was upheld also by the Dipayal High Court in December 2020. In what is known as the Tikapur incident, eight people including a high-ranking police official and a toddler were killed during a violent anti-government protest in Tikapur of Kailali.
If the ordinance is promulgated by the President, the government can withdraw the case against Chaudhary, whose appeal is sub judice in the apex court, and a few other politicians with similar charges.
The Nepali Congress-led five-party alliance is preparing to form a new government, but it has just 136 seats against the required minimum of 138 to prove majority in the 275-strong House. As Tek Bahadur Gurung, a Congress lawmaker, can’t perform his parliamentary responsibilities because of the corruption charges he is facing, the alliance needs support of at least three more lawmakers.
The ruling coalition sees the Nagarik Unmukti Party, which has three lawmakers in Parliament besides Chaudhary’s father who won the elections as an independent candidate, as the most suitable to its needs.
While the move to issue the ordinance has landed in controversy, there is also a view that the government must make public the report on the 2015 violent Madhesh protests including the Tikapur killings prepared by a high-level investigation commission. The report was produced by a team led by former Supreme Court justice Girish Chandra Lal after a detailed investigation into the months of protests in the run-up to the promulgation of the constitution.
Mohna Ansari, a former member of the National Human Rights Commission, said there is a dominant view within the Tharu community that Chaudhary was framed. “The Lal commission prepared the report after field visits and collecting testimonials from victims,” she told the Post. “The reality would be revealed if the report was made public.”
The Lal commission was constituted in February 2016 and it submitted its report to the then prime minister Deuba on December 16, 2017. But the report is gathering dust in government drawers.
Although successive governments on different occasions made public commitments to release the report, it has not seen the light of the day. Under pressure from Madhesi parties, the House of Representatives in March 2019 and in the following August had instructed, in vain, the government to publish the report.
According to the report, 66 people—including 10 police, an 18-month-old child, four-year old Samman Patel and 15-year-old Nitu Yadav—were killed during the Madhesh movement. Of them, 62, including the police personnel were declared martyrs, while four had not been conferred the status. The commission visited 18 districts for investigations. In Tikapur of Kailali, 10 policemen and an 18-month-old child were brutally killed by agitators in August 2015. The report has reportedly recommended that the government strengthen the mechanism to control riots and agitations.
Amid government reluctance to release the report, a group of victims demanded the report using the right to information law. But the authorities made various excuses and refused to release the report. Then the victims reached the National Information Commission asking for its intervention to gain access to the report. As the information commission did not act on the request, advocate Sunil Chauhan, on behalf of four victims of the Madhesh movement—Shashidhar Pandeya, Dharmendra Murau, and Gita Kumari Barai of Rupandehi and Awadesh Prasad Kurmi of Parsa—filed a writ petition at the Supreme Court seeking an order to the information commission and the government to release the report.
The court in October 2019 ordered the government and the commission to release the report within three months. The court also ordered them to give reasons if they are unable to release the report. Both the government and the commission have not implemented the court order.
Advocate Amrit Mishra said they are thinking of knocking the apex court’s door again as the authorities have ignored the court’s previous order. “We are planning to move to the court against the government’s defiance,” he said.