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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

2001 Manipur uprising: CBI says CRPF not to blame for 14 deaths, files closure report

The closure report contradicts the Justice C Upendra inquiry commission report of 2001, which squarely blamed the CRPF's "ill-considered" and "unnecessary" use of force for the deaths.

Written by Esha Roy | New Delhi | Updated: December 3, 2020 7:24:03 am
CBIA detailed order of the proceedings was not immediately available.

Almost two decades after 14 people died in alleged CRPF firing during the massive June 18 uprising in Imphal, the Central Bureau of Investigation absolved the force of all blame in a closure report it recently filed citing insufficient evidence.

The CBI report contradicts the Justice C Upendra inquiry commission report of 2001, which squarely blamed the CRPF’s “ill-considered” and “unnecessary” use of force for the deaths—and says the force acted in self-defence.

This closure report was submitted in the Court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Imphal West district on October 1.

Now, the families of the deceased, in a November 27 plea, have asked the Manipur High Court to quash the report and direct a fresh investigation.

The mass agitation of 2001, one of the bloodiest in Manipur’s recent history, was triggered by the Bangkok accord between the Indian government and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland’s Isak Muivah faction, which extended the ceasefire agreement to Manipur. Angered at what they saw as a threat to Manipur’s territorial integrity, over 50,000 Meitei protestors from Imphal valley descended on the capital city, storming and setting afire multiple government buildings, including the Chief Minister’s secretariat inside the bungalow complex.

The homes of a number of elected representatives were torched. These included the residences of Manipur Assembly Speaker Sapam Dhananjoy Singh, who was also injured in the protest, deputy chief minister Chandramoni Singh, forest minister Gangumei Kamei, union minister of state for food processing T. Chaoba Singh and some MLAs. The protesters burnt effigies of then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Home Minister L.K. Advani, the Centre’s emissary Padmanabiah and NSCN (IM) leaders Isak Chisi Swu and Thingaleng Muivah. They demanded an audience with Governor Ved

Prakash Marwah. The BJP and Samata Party offices were destroyed, while those of the Congress, the Manipur People’s Party and the Manipur State Congress Party offices were set on fire.

Security personnel opened fire on protesters at two places—the Raj Bhawan and the CM’s bungalow complex. Three people died in the Raj Bhawan firing and an FIR was filed the same day against nearly 4,000 protesters who entered its premises and pelted stones at security forces. Another FIR was filed in connection with the firing at the CM’s bungalow.

The CBI’s closure report now says that there is insufficient evidence on the case, as the documents relating to the persons involved, the shooting, and medical records are nowhere to be found.

“During the investigation it came to light that the missing case docket and that the Manipur police had set up a investigation to trace this docket… the OC and IO in charge of these cases have since expired… As such the whereabouts of the case docket could not be ascertained due to the demise of above individuals. The flow of inquiry to bridge the link is hampered and fixing responsibility to any individual without examining them is not justified,” says the closure report.

The report says that the manual medical records kept at the time have now been “disposed” of. While pointing out that 14 persons had died from the shooting, and 35 in all had been injured, the CBI also said that only three deaths have been recorded officially.

“Apart from the three dead persons, it is not clear from these (medical) records what happened to the rest of the 32 persons,” said the report, adding: “About the reported deaths of 14 persons on 18.06.2001, entries about three persons are mentioned in the death register.” There is no inquest report either.

“In the chain of untoward events, 14 people were killed and some injured as the security forces resorted to gunfiring, as they might have been compelled by the circumstances. In spite of being small in number in comparison to the large number of agitating people from different directions of the district, they had the toughest time and were rendered the arduous task in controlling the wild mobs created by the agitating people and as such, their services should be appreciated,” says the closure report.

The CBI’s assessment of the situation contradicts the Justice Upendra report, which observed: “…the firings which was justified initially had turned otherwise, the CRPF posted at the Chief Minister’s Bangalow complex had mishandled the situation and aggravated it unnecessarily. Their subsequent acts by making continuous firings indiscriminately even after the crowd/agitators left Chief Minister’s premises had aggravated the situation and turned it from bad to worse. It is my considered opinion that making of so many rounds continued firings after the crowd had started to leave Chief Minister’s Bangalow complex were ill considered on the part of CRPF.”

Justice Upendra also observed that: “…the firing at and from the southern Gate of Raj Bhawan and Chief Minster’s Bangalow complex were done without any order of the Magistrate, or Police Officer competent to order the firing. As stated above and therefore the security persons who had fired the guns cannot take benefit of section 132 Cr.P.C. In the circumstances in order to restore public confidence, proper action should be taken according to law and proceed the investigation properly”.

A letter submitted by the CRPF for the investigation says that 33 rounds of ammunition from 7.62 SLR and four rounds from 5.56 MM INSAS was fired by 81 Battalion of CRPF that day while another 16 rounds of ammunition from 7.62 SLRs were fired by the 121st Battalion.

The CBI’s closure report however states that the CRPF resorted to shooting not only as a last resort, but also in self defence and to stop further damage of government property. The CBI has said that the “circumstances were so volatile that he firing by the security personnel seemed to be unavoidable”.

“Sufficient admissible evidence has not come on record during investigation to launch prosecution against the alleged security personnel,” said the agency.

“We are shocked that the main reason for insufficient evidence is the loss of the Manipur police docket. This is not the first time in Manipur that legal documents, especially those pertaining to human rights violations have been lost in Manipur. In the case of the 2007 Oinam shooting similar reasons had been cited in the Manipur High Court,” said Manipur human rights activist Babloo Loitongbam.

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