Two days after the CBI blamed security forces for the burning of 160 homes in a Chhattisgarh village in March 2011, Inspector General of Police S R P Kalluri said the police action was undertaken after an NHRC ultimatum to complete a probe into earlier encounters in the area. Kalluri, SSP Dantewada at the time of the operation, said that “whatever happened, happened under my directions”.
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“Under the direction of the SSP, parties had gone in. I am responsible. Even I got orders from the NHRC. After that the parties had gone. A very big operation went. It is not a joke. We should rise from low politics and see things. The NHRC said ‘complete some investigations quickly’. We requested several times, it was not possible to go to those areas. But we were told ‘within this time frame, complete these investigations’. We tried several times, and several times there were encounters. When we got the final ultimatum, we sent a team of 421 people inside. Tadmetla is the same place, where that year 76 people were killed. When I was SSP Dantewada, 108 jawans were killed in one month in that area, in those police station limits,” said Kalluri.
In its status report before the Supreme Court, the CBI said that seven special police officers (SPOs) have been chargesheeted in the case, adding that the agency has evidence of the “involvement of 323 SPOs/policemen” and 95 CRPF/COBRA personnel in the police operation.
At a press conference in Jagdalpur Sunday, Kalluri, however, said the huts caught fire because of “police action, but police did not set the houses on fire”.
“When the forces go there, there will be war. There will be bullets. There will be bombing. When there is bombing in a season when it’s hot, there are huts that will burn. We have never said that huts did not burn. This has happened during police action, but the police did not set them on fire,” he said.
Kalluri’s account, however, contradicts the police FIR that it filed at the time of the incident, where it made no mention of these factors in Tadmetla and instead had categorically stated that it was Maoists who “burned the houses in the village”.
But he reiterated that the police had failed to put their side of the story properly before the CBI.
The CBI report, of which relevant sections have been accessed by The Indian Express, also details the police version of the events. “The brief facts of the complaint given by Shri DS Maravi, the then Additional SP Sukma, is as follows: On the intervening night of 15/16.03.2011, he was leading a police party to Tadmetla. At around 7-8 am, while crossing a river to reach Tadmetla, the armed Naxalites, in order to harm the police party, opened fire on them. The police party retaliated, returned fire and tried to surround the armed Naxals. The armed Naxals burned the houses in the village and ran toward the forest…,” it read.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Marawi, now deputy commandant in the 11th Battalion of the Chhattisgarh Armed Force, said: “It is not true that SPOs or the police party set fire to any huts in Tadmetla. I was leading the party. In Timmapuram, our party had a big firefight with the Naxalites, and had to fire the UBGL (under barrel grenade launcher) that hit two homes, but this we showed to the CBI as well. Two of our jawans died in that operation, and 10 were injured. But in Tadmetla there was nothing like that. When we crossed the river, they started to fire. From a distance we could see homes burning, so it must have been Naxalites that did it. But there were no bombings in Tadmetla,” he said.
Congress leader TS Singhdeo said: “If the huts being burnt were an accidental result of police action as IG Kalluri has said now, why has it taken a CBI report indicting the police to say this. They said for five years that Maoists burnt the villages.”