At least 10 Maoists, including six women, were killed in an encounter with a joint team of Greyhounds and special police personnel near Pujarikanker in Chhattisgarh, 30 km from Venkatapuram in Telangana’s Bhadradri Kothagudem district, officials said on Friday.
A Greyhounds constable, Sushil Kumar, who was part of the lead team, was killed while two other injured Greyhounds personnel were airlifted to hospitals.
By Friday evening, two bodies of Maoists killed in the encounter were brought to a government hospital and were identified as woman Maoist leader Pedda Budri (25) and Sanjeev (35).
All the Maoists are suspected to be from the Telangana State Committee and police sources said combing operations started after a tip-off about a big meeting of Maoists somewhere along the Chhattisgarh-Telangana border.
Officials said they believe a number of Maoists were injured in the encounter and were hiding in nearby hills, and the operation to flush them out would continue.
An FIR has been registered at Cherla Police Station in Kothagudem district. “We have registered an FIR stating that a joint team of Telangana and Chhattisgarh personnel was patrolling in the area when they were fired upon by Maoists. In self-defence the team fired back in which 10 Maoists — four men and six women — died,’’ an officer at the police station said.
Later on Friday, the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana High Court in Hyderabad directed Telangana Police to ensure that the autopsies of the Maoists killed in the alleged encounter is video recorded in the presence of independent witness.
Police suspect those present at the meeting included Hari Bhushan, secretary and a senior member of the Telangana State Committee, and Bade Chokka Rao alias Damodar, another senior leader in charge of Karimnagar-Khammam-Warangal in Telangana. Damodar had escaped an encounter in September 2015 in Warangal.
Hari Bhushan and Damodar are both on the NIA watchlist, and are massive cogs in the Maoist machinery particularly in the Telangana-Chhattisgarh region. Damodar is considered to be in charge of the Telangana region, and sources said he was considered for elevation to the Central Committee of the Maoists. Hari Bushan now primarily operates from the forests of Sukma and Bijapur, bordering Telangana, of which he is the state secretary.
The encounter started at around 4 pm Thursday when the Greyhounds of Telangana, assisted by special police personnel from Chhattisgarh, started the combing operation. Sources said the combing team came across at least 50-100 Maoists in a forest near Pujarikanker, and asked them to surrender but the Maoists opened fire.
“The place where the exchange of fire took place in the morning is six to seven km away from the Telangana border, and the firing lasted for over an hour,” said P Sundar Raj, DIG (Dantewada) range.
Officials found two AK 47s among other weapons from the encounter spot and assume that there may be top leaders among the dead who are yet to be identified. The bodies are being airlifted to Bhadrachalam Government Hospital for postmortem and identification.
Following information about the Maoist meeting, a massive search operation was launched with forces drawn from neighbouring states, during which Maoists were spotted in an area 30 km from Bhadradri Kothagudem district of Telangana. The encounter took place in the forest between Venkatapuram, Cherla and Pujarikanker.
Sources said that while dozens of Maoists opened heavy fire at the security forces and kept them pinned down, the rest escaped from the spot towards Chhattisgarh as they were hemmed in by the Godavari river on Telangana side.
Greyhounds constable Sushil Kumar, who was in the lead team, sustained serious injuries in the encounter. His colleagues carried him to a nearby place where a chopper was summoned to airlift him to hospital but he succumbed. He had joined police in undivided Andhra Pradesh in 2004 and joined the anti-Naxalite unit, Greyhounds in 2014.
The Revolutionary Writers Association, headed by writer and poet P Varavara Rao, had moved a “lunch motion” petition in the High Court seeking directions to police to follow Supreme Court and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) guidelines related to encounters.
Rao in the petition demanded that the bodies of the killed Maoists be photographed at the encounter site and then shifted to government hospital either at Warangal or Hyderabad. “We requested that the post-mortem be video recorded also. The HC directed that the two bodies which have already arrived should be properly preserved and autopsy should be done in a transparent manner,’’ he said.
Rao said he believed that the encounter was faked and was staged. He said that the Maoists may have been picked up elsewhere and shot dead in cold blood. “Police is not giving any information about this incident,” Rao said. Civil liberties activists said the HC direction was the reason that police has delayed bringing the bodies from the encounter site to the hospital.
Superintendent of Police (SP) of Bhadradri Kothagudem district, Ambar Kishore Jha, said the bodies were not recovered yet as the operation was still on. He said, “Today morning, during combing operation by Telangana and Chhattisgarh Police, they came across Maoists near Pujarikanker. The Maoists opened fire and our forces responded. After the firing stopped, 10 bodies were found in the area. We could bring the body of the martyred Greyhounds constable Sushil Kumar and two Maoists in the chopper that had been originally dispatched to airlift injured Sushil to hospital. The chopper did not go back as the operation is still going on.”
“We will follow the Supreme Court guidelines related to encounters. We will also follow all the procedures in bringing the bodies, identifying them and informing their relatives, and conducting of post-mortem,’’ he said, dismissing allegations that it was a staged encounter.
(With inputs from Dipankar Ghose)