The Sukma police Wednesday said Podiam Panda, who is named in 19 Maoist-related cases, including the Burkapal attack and the Tadmetla ambush that left 76 security personnel dead, has ‘surrendered’. However, at a press meet in Raipur Wednesday, Panda’s wife and brother claimed that Panda, a former sarpanch of Chintagufa village, was a CPI worker and had never been associated with the Maoists. They alleged that Panda’s ‘surrender’ could likely be under duress, as it comes at a time when they have filed a habeas corpus petition in Bilaspur High Court.
Workers of the CPI and the Bastar Sanyukt Sangharsh Samiti by their side, Panda’s wife Muiye and brother Komal told reporters that he was “picked up by police” on May 3. “For days after that, we had no news of him. On May 10, we received information that he might be at Chintagufa police station. When we reached there with clothes and food for him, the policemen took them, but didn’t let us meet him,” Komal said.
The family approached Bilaspur High Court on May 12 with a habeus corpus petition. The court asked the government to file an affidavit in this regard by Thursday. The family also alleged that police forced Panda to call them up to say that he had “agreed to surrender” and that they must “withdraw the case”. “This is impossible because he was never a Maoist,” said Komal.
An influential figure in south Sukma, Panda has been a CPI activist for years and a sarpanch for 15 years. CPI leaders alleged that Panda was targeted as he would speak out against rights violations. After cases were slapped against him, including one alleging his involvement in the Tadmetla ambush, Panda had left home and started living in jungles near Minpa village.
According to the police version, Panda has been in hiding for the past six years and joined the Maoists after he left Chintagufa. On Wednesday, police also brought Panda before the media. “We have been trying to track him for a long time…. We were recently able to reach him and he showed willingness to work with us… He will now help us,” said DIG Dantewada, P Sunder Raj.