Friday, September 18, 2009

Kandhamal Conversions: Only two recorded in the official register

Bhubaneswar, Sept 16 Conversion cases in Kandhamal between 2004-2007 far exceeded the official records of just two, the judicial commission probing last year's riots in the district was told today.
"There were many cases of conversions but few intimated the district administration," former Kandhamal district magistrate cum collector Gangadhar Singh told the Justice S C Mahapatra Commission probing the largescale communal violence that followed the killing of VHP leader Laxamananda Saraswati.
Refusing to comment on whether conversion was a cause of violence in Kandhamal last year, Singh who was the DM of Kandhamal from September 15, 2004 to October 3, 2007, said during cross-examination that though there was a register at the collector's office recording cases of conversion, only two intimations regarding conversion were registered in the district in January, 2004.
"The statutory provisions of the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act (OFRA) were not followed", he said, adding that there were no prosecutions as no complaint had been made against conversion, he said.
The census figure, on the other hand, showed rise in the size of population of all religious groups in Kandhamal, he said.

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Conversions took place against law

BHUBANESWAR: Former district collector of Kandhamal Gangadhar Singh on Wednesday said religious conversions had taken place in the southern Orissa district without following the statutory provisions of the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act (OFRA), 1967.
Singh, while appearing before the one-man judicial commission, headed by retired Justice Sarat Chandra Mohapatra, informed that till January 2, 2004, the district administration had received only two intimations of change in religion. But conversions without following the provisions of OFRA had taken place, he added, though he refused to agree that such conversions were "large-scale" in nature.
Singh, who was the Kandhamal collector from September 15, 2004, to October 3, 2007, disclosed that during his tenure no prosecution was sanctioned under OFRA. Replying to a query during cross-examination, he said there was widespread encroachment of government land, including forest patches, in the district, but he had not inquired into whether any church was constructed on such encroached land.
Singh, who also submitted an affidavit to the commission, also revealed that as collector he had received oral complaints relating to transportation of cows. Singh, who is presently serving as additional secretary, higher education, said during his tenure as collector there were cases of issue of caste certificates to persons not eligible. But he denied there had been large-scale issue of such "fake" caste certificates.
"During my period the caste certificate issue had not invited law and order situation," he said. He further observed that the demand of the Phulbani Jana Kalyan Sangha, an association formed by some Panas (a SC group), in August 2007, for change of their status to Kui (a ST group) had created serious apprehensions among tribals. "On account of this apprehension some tribal organizations formed a coordinating body, Kui Samaj Coordination Committee, and held rallies and processions in different parts of Kandhamal and submitted memoranda to Governor and chief minister challenging the claims of non-tribals to be recorded as Kui. Because of this, ill-feeling grew among the tribals and non-tribals," he said.
Earlier in the day, inspector general of police Arun Sarangi stuck to his stand that the state police headquarters was not aware of any Maoist threat to Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati (whose murder on August 23, 2008, had triggered ethno-communal carnage in Kandhamal), but stated that "from the report of SP, Kandhamal, and information gathered by me during my visit to Shankaracharya Kanyashram, Jalespeta, after the incident and from other intelligence inputs, it is absolutely clear that the assassination was the work of the CPI (Maoist) cadres."

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