Third was a clear case of shooting innocents, they tell panel

The very premise of the judicial commission investigating the deaths of 21 tribal people in the Bijapur district of south Chhattisgarh has been questioned by villagers. They have said investigating the three separate ‘encounters’ together won’t deliver justice. The Justice V.K. Agarwal Commission, appointed two weeks after the security forces allegedly killed so many villagers last June, is investigating the incidents.

The ‘encounters’ took place in three different areas of Bijapur from June 28-29, according to an application filed with the Commission by the villagers. The first incident took place in Silgar village under Jagargunda police station, and the second under the same station but in a village called Chimlipenta.

But the third incident, in which 17 tribal people were allegedly killed by a joint force of the police and paramilitary personnel, took place at least 20 km north of Silgar and Chimlipenta. It occurred in a field interconnected with three villages — Sarkeguda, Kotteguda and Rajpenta — under the Basaguda police station. In the application, the chief of the panchayat of these villages, Irpa Kamla Pati, said: “Possibly the first two incidents in [Silgar and Chimlipenta] are genuine encounters with Naxalites, while the third at Sarkeguda was clearly a case of shooting of innocent villagers.

“We doubt that an investigation that clubs together these separate incidents will be able to deliver complete justice,” Ms. Pati said in her application.

She has asked for a separate investigation for each incident. “In Silgar and Chimlipenta four people were killed as the Maoists and security forces opened fire at each other. In the Sarkeguda incident 17 unarmed tribal people were killed by security forces. One commission enquiring three unconnected incidents is unjust,” a villager at Sarkeguda said on condition of anonymity.

However, an officer attached to the commission told The Hindu : “The commission has been formed by the government and its mandate cannot be changed. When the presentation takes place followed by subsequent hearings, we can present the case to the government, based on the merits of the testimony” the officer said.

Earlier, in an interview to The Hindu Justice Agarwal said all measures were taken to ensure the “neutrality and fairness of the probe.”

However the commission has accepted the villagers’ demand for extending the deadline to file complaints. “The initial deadline was January 14. Now it has been extended up to February 12 on the basis of application and affidavits filed by the villagers under the Basaguda police station area,” said the officer.Ms. Pati said in her application that the villagers were not aware the commission had started functioning, and thus sought the extension. “The villagers never came to know about the gazette notification that announced the functioning of the commission. The administration had also not informed the villagers.”

Neutral interpreters

She also sought an “independent and neutral” interpreter who can communicate in both Dorla and Gondi languages during the hearing instead of the special police officers (SPOs). The commission officer said the matter would be decided in a meeting next month. “There is a requirement to understand [each other]. In the past also commissions have arranged for neutral interpreters and we hope to get one,” he added.

The commission has asked for FIR copies from the local station but has not called the joint forces of police and paramilitaries so far. “They are free to submit affidavits on the basis of which they will be called. They may also be called at the hearing stage,” the officer said.