SEVENTEEN tribal people who were killed by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on the grounds of being Maoists were innocent and unarmed and were shot dead at very close range, a report of the judicial enquiry commission that was looking into their deaths has found.
From the examination of the material and circumstance on record “it would appear that upper bodies including bullet shot on the top of the head of some of the deceased shows that they were shot from close quarters, which could not be the result of firing from a distance,” the Sarkeguda report said it its findings.
The report, which comes after seven years of the incident was originally submitted to the government on October 17, 2019, and was tabled in the Chhattisgarh State legislative assembly on December 2, 2019.
“The conduct of DIG S Elango as well as Deputy Commander Manish Bamola of not firing a single bullet shot during the incident, as per their own admission, clearly indicates that there was no firing by the members of the meeting; because had there been firing from the persons present in the meeting both the above senior officers who were leading the marching party and were fully armed, would have certainly fired in retaliation and self-defence”, the report said.
“…in fact it appears that security forces had confronted the members of the meeting and had fired from close quarters inflicting injuries on top of the head to some victims, while others were also hit on their torso and on the back,” the commission’s report said.
With regard to the injuries on the security personnel, the report said it was likely they had been hurt in friendly fire because of the surrounding darkness. The nature of injuries sustained by the security personnel could not have been caused by firing from a distance, it said. “…it appears more plausible as it was dark all around in the place of incident and possibility cannot be ruled out that the bullets fired by fellow members of security forces might have hit other members of the security personnel”.
Following the release of the report, the families of those who were killed in the encounter and rights activists are now demanding justice and action against the security personnel.
On the intervening night of June 28 & 29, 2012, the CRPF, claiming an attack by Maoists, shot dead several tribal people, including seven children.
They claimed that a joint team of the security forces and the Chhattisgarh police had opened fire in retaliation after they came across a meeting of Maoists in Sarkeguda in the late evening on June 28, 2012, and were fired upon by those present at the gathering.
The tribal people contended that the villagers of Silger, Bijapur, Sarkeguda and Chimli Penta had gathered to discuss arrangements for the traditional festival of “Beej Pandum”, and that those who were killed were civilians
Following the incident, a judicial commission of enquiry was constituted by the Chhattisgarh government on July 11, 2012, and Justice Vijay Kumar Agarwal was appointed as its lone member.
The commission was tasked to investigate the following questions:
Whether on the night between 28-29 June 2012 in Village Silger, Police Station Basaguda, District Bijapur and Villages – Sarkeguda and Chimli Penta of Police Station Jagargunda of District Sukma, an encounter had taken place between the Security Force and Naxalites?
When and how the said incident had occurred?
Whether in the said incident any other person besides security forces and Naxalite were killed or injured?
What were the circumstances in which the security forces had to take up the exercise on that night?
Whether before undertaking the exercise, the security forces had exercised any precaution or taken other steps?
What were the circumstances in which the security forces had undertaken the firing? Could the firing have been avoided?
Sudha Bhardwaj, the lawyer and activist who has been in jail for over year now, was the first to take up the case on behalf of the slain villagers. The other lawyers and activists representing them include Dr Yug Choudhary, Shalini Gera, Parijiata Bharadwaj, Isha Khandelwal, Arindriya Chakroborty, Podiyamy Bhima, Amarnath Pandey, Anubha Rastogi and Pratik Soni.