CONTRADICTING the state police which claimed that Naxalites had set 160 houses on fire in Tadmetla village in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, the CBI has held security forces responsible for the tragedy in March 2011.
Presenting a status report on its investigation, the CBI informed a bench led by Justice Madan B Lokur that “160 houses in village Tadmetla were completely burnt during the police operation.” Seven special police officers (SPOs) have been chargesheeted in the case and the CBI says it has evidence of the “involvement of 323 SPOs/policemen” and 95 CRPF/COBRA personnel.
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The CBI has also chargesheeted 26 Salwa Judum leaders for an attack on the convoy of Swami Agnivesh two weeks after the incident when he was trying to reach the villages to provide relief.
These leaders hold local positions in political parties like the BJP and the Congress, with some also part of pro-police groups active in Bastar such as Vikas Sangharsh Samiti, Agni, and the now disbanded Samajik Ekta Manch. The Salwa Judum and SPOs have been declared illegal by the Supreme Court in a batch of cases led by social activist and academic Nandini Sundar.
Sundar had argued that during operations between March 11 and 16 in the villages on Morpalli, Tadmetla, and Timmapuram, more than 250 homes were burnt, three men were killed and three women were raped. In July 2011, the court ordered a CBI inquiry into these incidents and three final reports were submitted to the special CBI court in Raipur earlier this week, and then produced before the bench on Friday.
On Friday, Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar and Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta apprised the court of the filing of the chargesheets in three cases and closure reports in two cases.
As Mehta submitted that the real solution to the problem (of Naxalism) was not in the courtroom but “somewhere else”, the bench observed there should be efforts to resolve it. “You may get a Nobel Peace Prize for this…why don’t you try? Whosoever does it will get the Nobel,” remarked the bench.
The court told Mehta about the message from the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for the resolution of the Colombian government’s war with FARC, (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, a guerilla movement). It said somebody, who made such an efforts here, could also get one day the coveted honour. It also directed the CBI to provide copies of investigation reports to the Sundar and others. The Indian Express has accessed relevant portions of these reports.
One of the reports says that the tehsildar of Konta subdivision had visited the villages in March 2011 to assess losses because of arson and found that out of “207 villages, 160 houses in village Tadmetla were completely burnt during the police operation and thereafter (the) civil administration of District Dantewada provided relief to all the affected villagers.”
In 2011, Sukma had not been carved out of Dantewada as a separate district. The report goes on to say that investigations disclosed that villagers said they had seen ex-SPOs, now police constables Madkam Bheema, Vanjam Deva, Telam Nanda and Telam Kosha, apart “from others acting in furtherance of common intention to beat/torture villagers and set their houses on fire.”
The SPOs have been charged under Section 326 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means), and Section 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance). The report added that further investigations in respect of remaining offences or accused persons will continue.
On the attack on Swami Agnivesh on March 26, 2011, the report says his vehicle was stopped at Dornapal on the way to Sukma. “On instigation of the Salwa Judum members, the mob surrounded the vehicle and raised slogans against Swami Agnivesh. The mob picked up the stones lying on the road for repair purpose and started pelting indiscriminately at all the vehicles parked there including the Scorpio in which Swami Agnivesh was sitting,” the CBI report said.
It added that the police quickly took charge of the situation after vehicles of the convoy as well as those belonging to the media were damaged. The charges have been framed under sections relating to rioting, voluntarily causing hurt, wrongful restraint and other related sections.
A press release issued by Nandini Sundar and Swami Agnivesh said that while the cases of rape and murder were still under investigation, the CBI enquiry has exposed the police lie that the houses were burnt by the Naxalites and, instead, shows that these unlawful activities were carried out by the SPOs/police/CRPF. It also points to the concealment of rapes and murders by the Chhattisgarh police, the statement said. When contacted, Inspector General of Police Bastar Range SRP Kalluri, who was the SSP Dantewada in March 2011 said,” I would not like to make any comment at all on this issue.” Vishvaranjan, who was Director General of Chhattisgarh Police at the time but has since retired said, “If the investigation has found this, then the natural consequence of this report is for the accused to be prosecuted.”