With the Supreme Court coming down on the Centre and the Andhra Pradesh government for the alleged cold-blooded killing of Maoist spokesperson Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad and journalist Hemchandra Pandey, the authorities will finally be forced to answer the series of uncomfortable questions thrown up by an independent investigation into the encounter last year.

While the State police claimed the alleged encounter with Azad and a large group of Maoists took place in the limits of the Wankadi police station of Adilabad district on the night of July 1, a fact-finding team constituted by the Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO) poked holes in the official account.

The team, consisting of notable personalities including Supreme Court senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, opined that Azad was likely shot dead from a very close range, not more than a foot, rather than from a distance as the police said.

The CDRO argued that the duo was killed with the knowledge of the Union Home Ministry as Azad was preparing for peace talks between the Centre and the Maoists at the initiative of social activist Swami Agnivesh.

Referring to the post mortem report of Azad, the report raised doubts on the versions given by the police and pointed out: “… the fatal bullet entry wound from the chest ‘at the left 2nd intercestal space' had ‘darkening burnt edges'. The burnt mark at the entry wound is a clear indication of a bullet being fired from a very close range (no more than a foot). The corresponding exit wound is at the ninth and tenth inter-vertebral space and depth is nine inches.”

“That means the bullet entered from the upper chest and travelled downwards. This questions the police version that Maoists were on the top of the hill and they (police) were below,” the team opined.

The team, referring to the version of the police that they located the two unidentified bodies (which later turned out to be that of Azad and Pandey) only the next morning (July 2), wondered how the police were able to pinpoint the location of the Maoists in a forest of several hundred sq.km on the Andhra Pradesh-Maharashtra border.

How come, despite 30 minutes of firing (11 to 11.30 p.m.), not a single policeman suffered any injury, whereas only Azad and Pandey were killed, the report asks. If there were 20 Maoists as stated in the FIR, why were they able to locate only two kit bags and two weapons. “In any escapade there would be more belongings left behind.”

Similarly if the police were unaware of the identities of the two dead men till 9.30 a.m. on July 2 at the time of filing of the FIR, how did the electronic media learn by 6 a.m. on July 2 that Azad had been killed in an encounter? Several channels had also announced his death. “So it clearly shows that the police knew who they had killed,” the team said.

The team wondered why the police selected Wankadi mandal for the “encounter” as the “villagers clearly told us that in recent years there had been no Maoist activity in the region.”

Media reports at the time quoted human rights activists alleging that Azad and Pandey were picked up by the police at Nagpur on June 30 and brought to Andhra Pradesh in a helicopter and shot dead. They also mentioned that Azad was carrying a letter of Swami Agnivesh at the time of his arrest. Azad was a central committee member of the CPI (Maoist).

Even Railway Minister and Trinamool Congress president Mamata Banerjee raised doubts on the death of Azad and demanded a judicial probe. There were pleas in this regard in Parliament too. But Home Minister P. Chidambaram rejected them, stating the issue was a State subject and it was for the Andhra Pradesh government to decide.