"Villagers Not Maoists, Forces Panicked": 2012 Chhattisgarh Firing Probe

At the time of the clash, which took place in June 2012, both the state (led by then Chief Minister Raman Singh) and the central governments defended the security forces' actions

'Villagers Not Maoists, Forces Panicked': 2012 Chhattisgarh Firing Probe

The alleged encounter took place in Sarkeguda village in Chhattisgarh's Bijapur district in June 2012

New Delhi:

Security forces have been held responsible for the killing of 17 villagers, including seven minors, in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh in June 2012. A judicial commission chaired by Justice VK Agarwal found no evidence to support claims the villagers were Maoists who fired on security forces at night. The report, a copy of which is with NDTV, also says security personnel may have opened fire "in panic" and continued to assault villagers after firing ended. The report also points out the 17 civilians died from "close quarters" and that one of the victims - Irpa Ramesh - was killed several hours after the alleged encounter.

At the time of the clash, which took place in June 2012, both the state (led by then Chief Minister Raman Singh) and the central governments defended the security forces' actions. They had claimed the villagers had assembled for a Maoists meeting; the villagers said they were meeting to discuss a festival.

The security forces - which consisted of teams from the CPRF and Chhattisgarh Police - had said the villagers had opened fire on them and they retaliated. However, according to the report the claim "does not stand test of scrutiny" as the team leader - Deputy Inspector General S Elango - admitted he did not see muzzle fire from the meeting.

The report also notes that neither DIG Elango nor Deputy Commandant Manish Barmola fired during the incident. "...clearly indicates there was no firing by the members of the meeting, because had there been firing both senior officers, who were fully armed, would have fired in retaliation," the report states.

The alleged encounter was likely caused by a "panic reaction" after a guide reported a "suspicious sound at a distance", the report states, adding, that injuries suffered by six members of the security forces team were due to crossfire - possibly by bullets fired by fellow personnel.

However, the report has also cast doubt over the villagers' claims - they had gathered to discuss the "Beej Pandum" festival.

The Justice Agarwal report also highlighted the case of Irpa Ramesh and, based on statements by his sister, Shashikala Telam and one Muttu Kaka, it suggests he was assaulted and shot dead in the morning, after the alleged encounter.

"(This) casts serious doubt about the version of the incident as given on behalf of the security forces," the report adds, noting that 10 of the 17 victims were shot in the back, suggesting they were killed while running away.

Justice VK Agarwal's report was submitted to the state government earlier this month. The opposition BJP has sought to move a breach of privilege notice against Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel citing the leak of the report to the media.

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