“We saw a bright light in the forest, right after we started hearing loud sounds. There were at least 30-35 such blasts. Nobody was hurt as it happened during the night. Had it been during day time when all of us are out of our houses, in the forests, there could have been serious damage,”Amar Kadati of Botatam village in Bijapur Chhattisgarh
Tribals in Chhattisgarh's Bijapur district have alleged that on the intervening night of 14-15 April, the police carried out air raids and bombarded parts of the forest around their villages, in an attempt to neutralise Maoists.
The villagers in Pamed block of Bijapur district say that they narrowly escaped what they claim was an air-raid conducted by the security forces.
30 year old Amar strongly opposed the usage of drone strikes in forests saying 'It's an outrageous attempt, people could have suffered.'
“We are tribal people and this is how we live. We live in forests, work on our small fields and collect other things from the forest. Since most of our day is spent in forests or near them, they are part of our life. We demand that they should not be harmed. There should be no bombings in our forests,”Amar said clinching his fist.
Amar further blamed the police and accused them of being reckless.
“The police did all this. They tried to kill Naxalites but they had already escaped. Police couldn’t kill Naxalites but it harmed our forests. A big tragedy could have taken place and many tribal people could have been killed,” he further said.
Not long ago, in April 2021, security forces were accused of using drones, however, no claims of bombing were reported at that time. Images of malfunctioned drones was allegedly brought down by the locals emerged from Botalenka village of Bijapur district a few days after the incident.
However, refuting the claims of tribals, P Sundarraj, Inspector General of Police, Bastar range said:
“In Bastar, like the rest of the country, security forces are involved in protecting life and property. The Maoists are trying to malign our image out of desperation at losing ground. Their leaders, all outsiders, are misusing tribal people. It is time people see their real, violent faces.”
However, after images of drones being used by security forces emerged in 2021, a senior officer of Chhattisgarh police had said during an off-record conversation that security forces were testing usage of drones in forests. He further confirmed that they weren’t carrying any payload (weren’t armed) but that forces could soon be ready to use armed drones.
'Saw Bright Red Light,' Say Locals Residing 4 km Away
"I live 4 kms away from the (alleged) drone attack site. It was around midnight when we heard loud explosions and a very bright red colour light appeared from the forest due to the blasts. In the morning when we came here to see what happened, we saw a huge pit. We figured some big bomb has been dropped from the sky," claimed 35 year old Deva Podiyami of Raspali village of Bijapur district.
Another villager accused the security forces of putting innocent lives at risk.
"If they want to fight the Naxals, they should do it face to face. Why put our lives in danger? Why destroy the forest?"questioned a villager.
The villagers claim to have collected the debris of bombs to use as proof for anyone enquiring into the matter.
The banned outfit Communist Party of India (Maoists) too in a press note released on 15 April condemned the drone attack by security forces and alleged that nearly 50 places were bombarded.
They further alleged that there are an increased number of security forces in the camp and claimed that forces have equipped themselves with a lot of arsenal including modern helicopters, drones and light weight aircraft.
Talking on the claims of drones strikes being carried out in the forests of Bastar, activist and lawyer Bela Bhatia said:
"The Government of India has ratified the Geneva convention (1949). Such attacks on areas where civilians also reside, are illegal and immoral. The Home department must clarify how this was allowed?"
With inputs from Vishnukant Tiwari