Padam Buska, one of the accused who hails from Karigundam village, told Bastar Talkies,
"I was at my home when they (police) came and arrested us. We were never involved with the Maoists. Four people were arrested from my village."
The brutal encounter between the police and Maoists took place when a team of around 100 men of the 74th battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), providing protection for road construction work on Dornapal-Jagarguna road, were ambushed by Maoists on 24 April 2017.
Following the attack, the police arrested 121 people and charged them under Section 302 (punishment for murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in the prosecution of common object) of the Indian Penal Code, 25 (1) (1- b ) (a), 27 Arms Act 1959 Section 3, 5 Explosive Substances Act 1908 sections 8(1)(3)(5) of the CSPSA and sections 38 and 39 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Police arrested 120 people from six villages – Burkapal, Gondapalli, Chintagufa , Talmetla, Koraigundum, and Tonguda – and, later on, a woman was also added as an accused.
However, the hearing in the case only began in August 2021, nearly four years after the first information report (FIR) was registered.
Prosecution Failed To Prove That Accused Were Present at the Ambush Spot: NIA Court, Chhattisgarh
The court questioned the police investigation and said that the prosecution failed to prove that the accused were present at the spot of the ambush and that they had recovered arms and ammunition from the accused.
"No evidence or statements recorded by the prosecution were able to establish that the accused were members of the Naxal wing and were involved in the crime. No arms or ammunition seized by the police were proved to be found from the accused,"the court order read.
An Adivasi man who spent five years in jail in this case, said that he didn't know what wrong he had done to deserve this.
Bela Bhatia, one of the lawyers who fought the case on behalf of the accused, raised questions about the police's conduct in the investigation.
"Shouldn't the Chhattisgarh police be accused of turning ordinary villagers into hardcore criminals and as a scapegoat in the ongoing fight against the Maoists? Will there be any kind of compensation for them for the time they were in jail and lost their earnings?”Bela Bhatia
Bhatia further said that Burkapal judgment will be remembered as a symbol of how Adivasis are embroiled in fabricated cases and how the road to get justice itself becomes a punishment.
"These are ordinary tribals, normal tribal villagers with families to provide for. Imagine the person being jailed for five years, what would have happened to the families? The economic impact on the families of the 120 people jailed for five years is hard to fathom."Bela Bhatia
Of the 121 accused arrested by the police, seven minors were released earlier while one Dondi Manglu had died on 2 October 2021.