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Bhopal Exclusive: Questionable Encounter and Now a ‘Fixed’ Report

The conclusion of the investigative report into the Bhopal Encounter was written even before it was conducted.

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India
5 min read
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On the night of 31 October, eight SIMI undertrials escaped from Bhopal Central Jail. Nine hours later, they were gunned down by the state anti-terror squad in an encounter in the Acharpura village, about 14 km from the jail.

In the evening, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan called a press conference where he seemed to justify what the opposition was calling an “extra-judicial” killing.

In the years it takes to punish these terrorists, they feast on chicken biryani and grow fat so they can go out and cause more trouble. If fast-track courts can be set up to tackle corruption, why not do the same for terrorists?
Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Madhya Pradesh CM

But accounts of this “fast-tracked” justice from the government, police, eyewitnesses and the contents of a mobile phone video that captured the said encounter, are all conflicting.

So, in a bid to understand what happened that night, The Quint travelled to Bhopal, visited the central jail and mapped the way to the site of the encounter.

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Snapshot

What’s the truth behind the Bhopal Encounter?

  • How did the 8 undertrials manage to escape from jail?
  • Why were there so few security guards in the jail on that night?
  • How did such a huge security lapse take place?
  • What will the state-level investigation reveal?

The Quint’s Investigation

11 am. November 6. Six days after the jailbreak, Bhopal Central Jail was a different sight, with extraordinary security arrangements and visiting ministers. Officers from different state departments – the Bhopal Central Jail administration, ATS, CID – and ex-DGP Nandan Dubey were at the premises to investigate the jailbreak. Additionally, retired high court judge SK Pandey is also conducting a judicial investigation.

The Quint spoke to the various investigators to find out which way their enquiry is heading and if any headway has been made in the case.


Note: We have the audio clip of the entire interview, parts of which have been embedded in this story. No changes have been made to the voices on record. The conversation took place at Bhopal Central Jail.

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Revelation 1: Only 2 Guards Patrolled Block B

Question: What’s the status of your current investigation? Can you tell us what happened that night?

Investigating Officer: Two guards were posted in the block where the jailbreak happened. The prisoners tied one of the guards up but the other was sincere and continued to protest, as a result of which they killed him. The security was low because of Diwali. Then, they scaled two walls.

The prisoners were feared by everyone in the jail. The security guards lived in dread and the prisoners weren’t kept in a proper lockup. When the administration was so lax in this regard, what could a minor staffer do? The prisoners took advantage of this oversight and lack of adequate backup and made their move. They killed a guard because they were aware that there were only two of them in that block. They had been in the jail for so many years, they must have been aware of the arrangements.

The conclusion of the investigative report into the Bhopal Encounter was written even before it was conducted.
(Photo: Hardeep Singh/The Quint)
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Revelation 2: ‘Investigation Limited to Jailbreak’

Question: Did something happen inside that jail that you don’t want us to know about? Something that may come to light only after the investigation is complete and a report has been filed?

Investigating Officer: It is very clear that the jail administration is to be blamed. It’s not as if they were not aware of this (lax security). We had told them before that they shouldn’t be so lax with these undertrial prisoners. But they were complacent. They are ISO-certified and have a high-security tag. They never imagined the prisoners could escape. Corruption is an even bigger issue than terrorism right now. No one is honest.

The conclusion of the investigative report into the Bhopal Encounter was written even before it was conducted.
(Photo: Hardeep Singh/The Quint)
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Revelation 3: ‘The Prisoners Were Left Free All Night’

The investigating officer revealed that on the night of 30-31 October, not only was there a shortage of security guards in the jail, but the prisoners – who were on friendly terms with the administration – weren’t even locked in their cells. In a festive Diwali mood, carelessness reigned supreme.

Investigating Officer: I have seen the entire area. The prisoners escaped with ease. They had planned everything, they were in total control. They were in jail for such a long time, they had developed a rapport with the people who fed them and talked to them, to the extent that their cells weren’t even locked! Clearly, they took advantage of the situation.
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Revelation 4: ‘Gone in 7 Minutes’

If the officer we spoke to is to be believed, escaping the Bhopal Central Jail, which boasts of three-tier security, was child’s play for the eight undertrials.

Investigating Officer: Like I’ve said, it was very easy for them to escape. We traced their steps and took only seven to eight minutes to walk out of the cell, scale the wall and escape. They weren’t even locked up!

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Revelation 5: ‘Prisoners Used a Ladder to Scale the Wall’

But how did the prisoners scale two walls with such ease? The official line is they had access to bedsheets, which they tied together. But a more believable theory was offered by the investigating officer we spoke to.

Investigating Officer: There were two walls and they used wood from a guava tree to make a ladder to scale the inside one. They must have collected the wood over a period of time and the carelessness of the guards in never checking the barracks meant they didn’t discover it. This fact has come out in our investigation. It is lucky that a guard spotted them making a break for it, or this would have never come out.

It was confirmed in conversations with at least four sources that the circumstances that led to the jailbreak will form the crux of the report that will be submitted to the state government. It won’t focus at all on the circumstances that led to the eight inmates being gunned down in broad daylight.

Investigating Officer: The escaped prisoners displayed violent behaviour during the encounter and they talked of martyrdom. It was clear they could not have been kept alive.

He echoes the same sentiment expressed by CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who responded to his political opponents and said – “These men who were killed were terrorists, plain and simple. Who knows what they would have done once out of captivity? But there is such a needless ruckus being made about it.”

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Producer: Tejas Alhat

Video Editor: Mohd. Irshad Alam and Purnendu Pritam

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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