Five years after 121 tribals were charged for their alleged links to a Maoist attack in which 25 security personnel were killed, a National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in in Chhattisgarh's Dantewada has acquitted them citing lack of evidence.
In a trial that began after a delay of four years in August last year, the tribals were accused of helping Maoists launch a deadly ambush for a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) team. Of of the 121, seven were minors and one person died in jail.
The court said that there was no evidence on record that any arms and ammunition were recovered from the accused. The prosecution, said the court, had failed to establish either the involvement of the accused in the massacre or their links with the Maoist attackers.
The tribals had been charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). On April 24, 2017, 25 CRPF personnel of the 74th battalion were killed in an ambush at Burkpal village.
The CRPF team was sanitising the area between Burkapal and Jagargunda where a road was being constructed. It was the second deadliest attack in the Bastar region after an attack in 2010 in which 76 security personnel were killed.
The accused said during their five years in jail, they had suffered heavy financial losses.
"I was in jail for five years and two months. I had never even seen this village before they caught me and brought me here," said Imrait Une from Sukma.
Another accused, Padam Pajja from Karigundam village, also claimed he was nowhere near the site of the attack on the day. "I was at home and going to tend to my farm. I have never seen the site of the attack in my life," he said.
This is not the first time in Bastar that a large number of villagers were arrested over their alleged links with Maoist attacks and then acquitted years later due to lack of evidence.