He was given wrong information by State government, says Charandas Mahant

Three days after the State police and the Central Reserve Police Force killed 20 villagers in a counter-insurgency operation in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district, an 11-member team of the Opposition Congress visited the site and dubbed the incident a “completely fake encounter” and the victims “innocent Adivasis.”

The findings are in sharp contrast to Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s remarks soon after the incident, praising the forces for their courage and skill and claiming that three important Maoist leaders were killed in the raid. “The State government has passed on wrong information to the Union Home Minister [about the incident],” said Union Minister of State for Agriculture Charandas Mahant, clarifying the apparent contradiction in the party’s stance.

While 19 villagers died in the raid in the Kotteguda Panchayat on Thursday, one succumbed to injuries in hospital. Six CRPF troopers were also injured.

“I visited the site and spoke to the villagers…they were holding a meeting to discuss the upcoming sowing season,” said Kowasi Lakma, the Congress MLA who headed the team. “They said no Maoists were present. Children have died, school students have died, women have died. How can they all be Naxalites?”

“It is clear that the police system in Chhattisgarh has collapsed,” Congress State president Nand Kumar Patel said, asked about the role of the Central forces in anti-Maoist operations. “It is true that the encounter occurred during a joint operation between the State and Central forces, but the State police must guide the CRPF and provide intelligence.”

Sources in the security establishment expressed unhappiness with the quality of information passed on to the paramilitary forces. “Pure imagination is being passed off as intelligence,” said an officer familiar with anti-Maoist operations, noting that the forces were on their way to intercept a Maoist company at Silger, 16 km away in Sukma district, but stumbled into an alleged fire-fight, 3 km from their camp.

Neither villagers nor Mr. Lakma could explain how six troopers were injured if there were no Maoists present during the encounter. A villager interviewed by this correspondent said the forces might have accidently shot each other when they surrounded the village.

The police have disputed this theory. “There are no exit wounds on the troopers shot in the face and chest,” a police source said, implying that the troopers were shot by low-velocity bullets used by Maoists rather than the INSAS or Kalashnikov rifles used by the forces.

A magisterial inquiry has been ordered to establish the sequence of events.