A judicial commission report on the encounter that happened in May 2013 at Edesmetta village of Bijapur district in Bastar division of Chhattisgarh ruled out police's claims of the the ones killed being linked to 'Maoists'.
The report further said that the CRPF personnel killed in the encounter died most likely due to the 'cross firing by the soldiers.'
A one member judicial commission's report headed by Justice VK Agarwal was tabled by Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel in the Chhattisgarh Assembly on Monday, 14 March.
Seven tribals and a CRPF personnel were killed in the Edesmetta encounter in 2013 following which the then BJP government's Chief Minister Dr Raman Singh ordered a judicial commission enquiry into the incident. The report was submitted to the Chhattisgarh government in September 2021.
What Happened in Edesmetta in 2013?
On 19 May, 2013, security forces opened fire in Bastar's Edesmetta village on a group of tribals who had gathered to celebrate their local festival Beej Pandum, a ritual celebrated before the sowing of the crops.
The state government at the time had vehemently argued that all the villagers killed were in fact members of a banned outfit and the death was due to a gunfight.
What Does the Judicial Commission Report Say About the Incident?
The report tabled by Chhattisgarh Chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, however, denies the police's claims.
Here are some prominent conclusions made in the report:
When the security forces saw an assembly of people near the fire, they possibly assumed that they were Maoists. Therefore, they took cover and fired in self-defence. As has been previously discussed, there was no imminent danger to the life of the security personnel because it has not been satisfactorily established that the people gathered attacked the marching party of the security force.
Shooting by the security personnel was not in self-defence, as previously observed and accepted. It appears that the said firing was carried out due to the misidentification and out of panic. Additionally, as it has been noted previously, the said firing might have been avoided if the personnel were well-equipped with effective gadgets and if intelligence inputs had been provided to them.
The question of the members of the gathering using firearms does not arise at all. There is a possibility that the fatal injury caused to the CoBRA constable was due to cross-firing by his own squad members and not by the firing by the gathering of people.
What Does the Report Suggest to Avoid Future Incidents?
The report, in addition to findings of the case, listed out reasons as well as possible measures to be taken to avoid such events in future. The suggestions made in the report are as follows:
Security forces should be trained in the traditions, local festivals along with the information of the terrain and the geography of the region.
Security forces should be equipped with better gears and protective equipment, including bullet proof jackets and night vision glasses to establish a sense of security and safety among the forces.
The report also emphasized on strengthening the intelligence-gathering mechanism to avert such events.
'Action' Report Tabled by CM Bhupesh Baghel
The Bhupesh Baghel government also tabled an 'action-taken' report on the commission's recommendations.
The state said that the government is working on strengthening the local-intelligence-gathering-mechanism. It also mentioned the setting up of a counter-intelligence cell to ensure that these events are not repeated in future.
'Such Incidents Have Been Happening for Years'
Bastar based lawyer and Social activist Bela Bhatiya had strong comments on the incident and its findings.
"The report says that the security forces opened fire out of ghabrahat (nervousness). Male members of the village were celebrating a pandum (festival) that night in an open space near the village. The forces must have seen them as they were around a bonfire. There was no reason for the security forces to feel threatened and open fire," Bhatiya said.Bela Bhatiya
"What happened in Edesmetta has been happening in Bastar for many years. There have been many instances when such trigger-happy fingers have caused tribal lives. But every time there has been a cover-up by the authorities rather than stringent action against the guilty. It is this impunity that has been granted to the security forces that is responsible for the re-occurrence of such instances. The most recent example is of Silger," she added.
Bastar has been a Maoist hub for nearly four decades now and though the Maoist presence has been declining in the area, a majority of the area is still a safe haven for the ultras.
"Governments have failed to act on these reports. Security forces are still not sensitized, their safety gears are more or less the same, though their weapons are more advanced and deadly. I understand that the security personnel function in difficult circumstances but that does not allow them to go on a killing spree, unmindful of the tribal way of life," Bela Bhatiya further said.Bela Bhatiya added.
Earlier in December 2019 another judicial commission report headed by Justice VK Agarwal on the encounter that happened in the Sarkeguda village of Bijapur district was tabled by the CM Bhupesh Baghel. As many as 17 people were killed in the Sarkeguda encounter and the state in this case too had argued that the deceased were not innocent tribals but Maoists.
However, the Sarkeguda report said that soldiers fired unilaterally on the villagers and that no evidence could be produced to link the deceased with Maoists.