The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to the Government of India on 28 November 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. Regrettably, the Government did not reply within this time frame. If a reply is received, it will be posted on the UN Special Procedures communications database.
This is a shorter version of the original communication.
Topic: investigation into the death of environmental human rights defender Mr. R. Jaganathan.
Mr. R. Jaganathan was a land and environmental human rights defender and farmer in Pugalur Taluk, Karur District, Tamil Nadu in India. He advocated against the adverse environmental impacts of local quarrying activities on farmland, plants and trees in the surrounding areas.
From 2015, Annai Blue Metals Quarry began to use modern machinery in its extraction activities, which reportedly damaged surrounding agricultural land with dust and soil particles. In the same year, the quarry lost its official license to operate, however it reportedly did not cease its mining operations.
After it lost its operating license, Mr. Jaganathan was active in his opposition to the continued operation of the quarry. In mid-May 2019, Mr. Jaganathan was attacked with chilli powder to the face by a group of individuals, including the husband of the owner of the Annai Blue Metals Quarry.
On 31 May 2019, Mr. Jaganathan was again attacked by a group of persons, with knives and farming equipment. Mr. Jaganathan was admitted to the hospital after suffering serious injuries and a case was opened against the attackers. Once again, the husband of the owner of Annai Blue Metals Quarry was among the accused. They were reportedly charged with attempted murder. The charges were later dropped on 3 June 2022.
In August and September 2022, Mr. Jaganathan sent petitions to a number of local authorities regarding the illegal mining activities of Annai Blue Metals Quarry, including District Environmental Engineer and members of the local Government. On 8 September 2022, the District Geology and Mines Department sealed the Annai Blue Metals Quarry because of its continued operations.
On 10 September 2022, as he travelled on his motorcycle from his home in Vettukadu Thottam in the direction of the village of Karudayampalayam, Tamil Nadu State, a vehicle driven by the husband of the quarry owner collided with Mr. Jaganathan from the opposite direction. Mr. Jaganathan died at the scene. A First Information Report (FIR No. 115/2022) was registered at Paramathi police station against the husband of the quarry owner for murder under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code. On 11 September 2022, the suspect was arrested on the charge.
The family of Mr. Jaganathan called for a re-post-mortem examination and an investigation into his death carried out by a diverse group of forensic experts. On the morning of 12 September, two individuals who supported the family’s calls for re-examination were detained and reportedly transferred in separate police cars to various police stations in the region. The basis of the detention is reportedly unclear, as no formal arrest procedures were followed nor was a case registered against them. They were released at 8:30 p.m. on the evening of 12 September.
On 8 November 2022, the suspect in Mr. Jaganathan’s murder was granted bail. A previous petition filed on behalf of Mr. Jaganathan’s family against the granting of bail had been dismissed.
In the communication, we express deep concern regarding the death of Mr. Jaganathan, which we fear may have been carried out intentionally in order to halt his work in defence of human rights and the environment. We are particularly concerned that previous violent attacks against Mr. Jaganathan did not lead to convictions nor increased protection for the environmental defender.
Furthermore, we are concerned that other individuals supporting the family of Mr. Jaganathan in their search for accountability for his death, were detained without charge and allegedly without following formal procedures. If true, this would be in violation of due process and would raise serious questions over the impartiality of the investigation into the death of the human rights defender.
We are additionally deeply concerned that the murder suspect has been released on bail, particularly given the severity of the charge and his previous involvement in attacks against the deceased human rights defender.