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121 tribals, arrested for 2017 Maoist ambush in Chhattisgarh, acquitted after five years in jail

The NIA special court, which pronounced the judgement on Friday, said the prosecution could not prove that the accused, tribals who were behind bars for almost five years, were either on the spot of the incident, were in possession of any arms or explosives or were even members of the CPI(Maoist).

The Burkapal ambush had occurred when a team of 70 soldiers of the CRPF's 74th Battalion had gone to provide security cover for road building in Burkapal in Sukma on April 24, 2017. (PTI/Archive)

A special court in Chhattisgarh has acquitted all 121 accused arrested by the state police in connection with the 2017 Burkapal Maoist ambush in Sukma in which 25 CRPF men lost their life.

The NIA special court, which pronounced the judgement on Friday, said the prosecution could not prove that the accused, tribals who were behind bars for almost five years, were either on the spot of the incident, were in possession of any arms or explosives or were even members of the CPI(Maoist). “Thus it is clear that the prosecution has failed to prove its case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt,” the court of Justice Dipak Kumar Deshlahare said while acquitting all the accused.

The Burkapal ambush had occurred when a team of 70 soldiers of the CRPF’s 74th Battalion had gone to provide security cover for road building in Burkapal in Sukma on April 24, 2017. The CRPF contingent had been surrounded and attacked by a group of 150 CPI(Maoist) cadres.

Following the incident, which was the biggest ambush on the CRPF since the 2010 Chintalnar massacre in which 76 CRPF soldiers died, the Chhattisgarh Police had arrested 121 tribals from various villages in the region. All of them were arrested in 2017 and remained in jail till Friday. One accused turned out to be minor, while one died in detention.

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The Chhattisgarh Police registered the case in the matter under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and even invoked provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) at the time of the charge sheet. As many as 120 tribals were arrested in the initial phase with one more arrest being made later. Accused Dodi Mangalu of Patel Para in Sukma died in jail.

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According to the judgement, 20 prosecution witnesses turned hostile during the trial where they refused to recognise or know the accused. They also did not support the prosecution’s claims of recovery of explosives from the accused. Fifteen of them said their statements were never recorded by the police.

In May-June 2017, the Chhattisgarh Police first arrested some half a dozen tribals in connection with the case. Based on their statements, it claimed to have made recoveries of some arms and explosives from other tribals—including a bow and an arrow, a metre of codex wire, a non-electric detonator, a crude bomb etc.

“In the context of the incident, the prosecution witnesses have not made any statement with regard to the identity or presence of the accused at the spot of the incident. No recovery of any arms or explosives from the custody of the accused has been proven. Thus, on the basis of statements of prosecution witnesses recorded before this court no charge can be proven against the accused,” said the court.

According to the court, there was no believable fact in the statements of witnesses that could prove that the accused were members of the CPI(Maoist).

First published on: 17-07-2022 at 10:14 IST
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