The report of the Justice V K Agarwal enquiry commission, which found no evidence to support claims by security forces that 17 people killed in an alleged encounter in Bijapur in 2012 were Maoists, will be tabled in the Chhattisgarh Assembly Monday — a day after its key findings were first published in The Sunday Express.
Sources told The Indian Express that the state government decided to table the report after a hurried Cabinet meeting late Saturday. During the meeting, sources said, at least two ministers claimed the Cabinet had been “misled” earlier about the contents of the report.
Contrary to claims made by security forces about the alleged encounter in Sarkeguda in June 2012, the one-member judicial commission found that there was no firing by the villagers; the villagers were assaulted and killed from close quarters; security forces may have fired “in panic”; and one of the victims was shot in the morning, several hours after the encounter at night.
Sources in the Congress, which came to power in the state late last year, said the report was first raised Saturday during a meeting of ministers and MLAs to discuss the urban body polls scheduled in December.
“It was pointed out that since such a damning report has come, it must be officially put up before the Cabinet and then on the floor of the House. Since Monday or Tuesday is the last day of the Vidhan Sabha, the Cabinet needed to be called quickly and was held around 10 pm,” a senior Congress leader said.
Senior government officials, including the Chief Secretary and Director General of Police, were present at the Cabinet meeting, sources said.
Sources said that while the contents of the report were discussed threadbare, there was discomfiture among some members of the Cabinet. “The report has been with the government for over a month and the Vidhan Sabha session is on. So why the delay in the Cabinet officially taking it up? Any government needs time to peruse a report, especially one as important as this, but it could have been worse if the Cabinet was misled,” a Cabinet member said.
Sources said the report was previously mentioned in the Cabinet on November 15. “But at the time, the Cabinet was told by officials that the report held nobody to account, and was of little purpose or value. At this point, ministers like Kawasi Lakhma, who is from Bastar, said he is from the area and what happened was wrong. Health Minister T S Singhdeo said that it was the Congress, under the late Nand Kumar Patel who had raised the issue of the tribals being innocent, and had demanded a judicial enquiry. But this was all on the premise that the report held nobody to account,” sources said.
On Saturday, some Ministers chastised officials for “misleading” them about the report. “At least two ministers spoke about this. One Minister had read the report and kept referring to paragraphs from it. He said that it was not acceptable that the Cabinet may have been given incorrect information about the report,” a senior leader said.
BJP leader Raman Singh, who was Chief Minister in 2012 when the incident took place, said the report should have been placed in the Vidhan Sabha first. “I had ordered the commission of enquiry. There was a UPA government in the Centre at that time. For over a month now, the state government had the report but did not place it before the House. We will raise this issue in the Vidhan Sabha,” Singh said.
According to the security forces, a team of the CRPF and the state police had come across a “Maoist meeting” in Sarkeguda around 10.30 pm on June 28, 2012. They claimed that members of the meeting opened fire at the forces, which retaliated. The villagers had rubbished this version, alleging they had gathered to discuss modalities of “Beej Pandum” (a traditional seed festival), and were encircled and fired upon, which left 17 dead, six of them minors.
Cabinet sources said the judicial commission’s report will also be sent to the law department. “There is one point the Cabinet does not agree with the findings, where the report casts doubt on the villagers’ assertion that they had collected to discuss preparations for Beej Pandum. That might also be mentioned on record but the matter is being discussed,” sources said.
Shalini Gera, who is one of the advocates for the victims said it is “clear that the incident was a fake encounter”. “It is important that responsibility for this, where lives were lost, needs to be taken,” Gera said.