Seventeen people were killed in an encounter by a joint team of CRPF and district police in Sarkeguda village of Bijapur on June 28,2012. A year later,none of the three commissions set up to probe the killings has submitted its report.
While the Chhattisgarh Police had immediately called it the biggest Maoist encounter,reports later showed that those killed were probably innocent villagers,who had gathered for the tribal festival Beej Pondum,mistaken for Maoists. The Bijapur administration set up a magisterial inquiry under SDM RA Kuruvanshi,the state government ordered a judicial inquiry under retired high court judge Justice V K Agarwal and CRPF ordered an internal probe. Agarwal was given only three months to complete the probe but has been receiving extensions since. CRPF officers and Kuruvanshi claimed since judicial enquiry under the honourable judge had been ordered,our probe became irrelevant. We are waiting for the report, they said.
A fortnight after the incident,Kuruvanshi had held a public hearing inviting relatives of the victims and other eyewitnesses to submit their account at the Bijapur district headquartersaround 60 km from the spot,at least a 4-hour journey for the villagers. Justice Agarwal held his public hearing in capital Raipur,560 km away from the spot.
What set the Sarkeguda incident apart was the manner of killings. The Indian Express had reported that some of the bodies had dagger or non-bullet wounds. Strongly refuting the charges,while then CRPF DG K Vijay Kumar had said that torture is not in our DNA,IG (Ops) Pankaj Kumar Singh claimed: There have been no unjust violations from our side,like hacking the bodies with axes. The bodies have been properly photographed and videographed and we can see no such marks.
The Indian Express has a copy of the 49-minute post-mortem video and photographs of the deceased taken during the procedure. Forensic experts who examined the video and photographs confirmed that some bodies had cut marks. However,post-mortem reports did not mention these visible marks. All victims,the reports noted,died of bullet injuries.
Post-mortem examinations were conducted inside the Basaguda police station premises,in open air,and doctors did not even touch the bodies. Covered with tarpaulin,the bodies lay on ground and relatives were called in to uncover them,and move them sideways,one by one. It took less than 50 minutes for 16 persons and doctors quickly noted down the details from a distance,with policemen around them.
The post-mortem was conducted by a team of three doctors of Bijapur hospital. Ideally,post-mortem examinations should take place in a closed mortuary,but what else do you expect when it is being conducted in a police station with dozens of cops around us, said a doctor.
Eleven months later,Bijapur witnessed a string of such post-mortem examinations again. Eight tribals were killed in an alleged encounter with the joint team of CRPF and district police in Ehadsameta village on May 18. Post-mortem examinations were held in open,opposite the Gangalur police station,with CoBRA commandos standing guard. Unlike in Sarkeguda,however,this time the state government and the forces have admitted that the deceased were innocent villagers. Their relatives said that they had gathered to celebrate the Beej Pondum festival when forces mistook them for Maoists and opened fire.
Justice (Retd) Agarwal,who is yet to submit the Sarkeguda encounter report,has now been assigned the Ehadsameta probe.