New Delhi: Two villagers who told the Central Bureau of Investigation that they saw senior Chhattisgarh police officer S.R.P. Kalluri take part in the burning of dozens of adivasi homes in a 2011 operation had their names taken off the final list of witnesses filed by the agency in its chargesheet after “instructions” from above, leaked CBI documents reveal.
The incident at Tadmetla in Bastar – one of the worst examples of police violence in Chhattisgarh – was investigated by the CBI on the direction of the Supreme Court in the wake of its order banning the state-sponsored vigilante movement known as Salwa Judum.
While the clash between CBI director Alok Verma and special director Rakesh Asthana centres around allegations of corruption and the abuse of power in the most high-profile of cases, the Chhattisgarh file provides a glimpse into how easily India’s most prestigious investigative agency can be made to tailor its findings to suit the political agenda of the government and protect influential persons from prosecution – even when its probe has been ordered by the Supreme Court.
In his remarks in Jagdalpur on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi blamed “urban Maoists” for “ruining the lives of our poor Adivasi youth”. Whatever the truth of that allegation, the information contained in the CBI’s internal report suggests the state’s police could easily attract the same charge.
The Wire has accessed documents relating to the Supreme Court-mandated CBI probe into the March 2011 burning of three villages – Tadmetla, Timapuram and Morpalli – in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh in a week-long operation. The police and government claimed that Maoists burned the villages and filed FIRs to that effect – even though it was widely reported at the time that the security forces had burned them.
The villagers had also reported rapes and murders by security forces. The incident was further compounded when Salwa Judum leaders in Dornapal attacked Swami Agnivesh, who was trying to deliver relief to the affected villages.
In October 2016, in opposition to the police version, the CBI charged seven special police officers (SPOs) with arson in Timapuram and Tadmetla, and 26 others, including prominent Judum leaders like P. Vijay and Soyam Mooka, for the attack on Agnivesh. However, the CBI closed the cases of rape, murder and arson in Morpalli village.
Even though the police under the leadership of inspector general of police S.R.P. Kalluri reacted sharply to the chargesheet – burning effigies of human rights activists, attacking a press conference by Supreme Court petitioner and CPI leader Manish Kunjam, and filing an evidently trumped up case of murder against petitioner Nandini Sundar and others which the apex court effectively stayed – the CBI’s internal documents raise the possibility that its chargesheets were meant to divert attention from the far more serious observations its investigating officers had made in their closure report.
- “If prosecution is thought fit to be recommended against the SPOs, who have been identified by the villagers having committed the offences, then the same logic would also apply for Shri S.R.P. Kalluri and Shri D.S. Maravi, as they have been also identified by the villagers and they were leading the operation.”
The CBI’s investigations in the form of its closure report question the role of Kalluri, then SSP Dantewada and subsequently IG of Bastar, and reveal how the police and administration tried to cover up the commission of heinous crimes like rape and murder. The report also discloses serious lapses on the part of the Chhattisgarh administration. However, despite the recommendations of the CBI’s investigating officers, the report was never placed before the Supreme Court.
Since the CBI filed its chargesheet two years ago, the accused SPOs and Salwa Judum leaders have not appeared before the CBI special judge in Raipur. The judge’s post itself has been lying vacant for a year since the last incumbent was transferred.
In a further attempt at dialling back on its own findings, the CBI has now inducted Abhishek Shandilya – who was SP, Sukma when the CBI’s own investigating officers were attacked by SPOs in 2012 – as its SP in charge of Chhattisgarh. The CBI usually avoids such a conflict of interest because the agency frequently needs to investigate cases that the state police has either botched up or is suspected of being complicit in.
The events of March 2011
Between March 11 and March 16, 2011, a police party consisting of ‘327 jawans’ led by D.S. Marawi, then additional SP, Sukma, embarked on “combing operations as per the orders of the then SSP Dantewada”’ (FIR 4/2011, filed by Marawi). The then SSP Dantewada was Kalluri.
In the course of the operations, according to villagers, three men were killed – Madvi Sula of Bhanda Morpalli, Badse Bhima of Pulanpad and Manu Yadav of Pulanpad. Three women were raped, two in Morpalli and one in Tadmetla. A total of 33 houses were burnt in Morpalli, 59 houses in Timapuram and 160 houses in Tadmetla.
The media reported the incident on the March 23, and it was only after this that the police bothered to file FIRs on the arson, even though the police FIRs put the blame on Maoists. The collector and commissioner tried to visit the spot on March 24 but were turned back by the police. SPOs assaulted a truck driver deputed by the commissioner to deliver relief. Local journalists were also stopped. Finally, when Swami Agnivesh tried to deliver relief to the villages on March 26, he and his companions were brutally attacked by Salwa Judum leaders at Dornapal. Questions were raised by the Congress in the Vidhan Sabha and by the NHRC. On April 10, 2011, one of the rape victims from Tadmetla spoke about her ordeal at a public hearing at Jagdalpur.
On July 5, 2011, the Supreme Court ordered a CBI enquiry into the incidents, saying it had no faith in any enquiry ordered by the state government. Incidentally, the CBI were themselves attacked by the SPOs in Dornapal in February 2012, after which the investigation was stalled for a while. When they resumed, the villagers were made to visit Jagdalpur for depositions, 200 km away.
Despite the obvious need to register fresh FIRs that would reflect the charges of rape and murder, the CBI’s first attempt to shield the Chhattisgarh government occurred when it made the police FIR the basis of its own investigations. In the chargesheets filed by the CBI in October 2016, Marawi, who was then additional SP, is listed as the complainant. In fact, as the person officially leading the police party that allegedly engaged in arson in 2011, he should have been one of the main accused.
The involvement of S.R.P. Kalluri
At a press conference held on October 23, 2016, just after the CBI filed its chargesheets, Kalluri had claimed full responsibility for the operations, saying that they were forced to go in for NHRC work. He also claimed that the houses in Tadmetla caught fire on their own in the gunfight between the police and Naxalites because it was hot.
The CBI’s report says this claim about the NHRC reflects the “mischievious mind of Chhattisgarh police, because of which, they have been taking the alibi of inquiry into complaint of Human Rights Commission, though it was clear on their mind from the very first day that the operation was one of anti-Naxal operation only”.
The report mentions the names of two witnesses who saw Kalluri involved in torching the houses, but their names were dropped from the list of witnesses in the final chargesheet because of “instructions” from above.
The CBI’s internal report has this to say on Kalluri:
There are two witnesses in RC.10(S)/2011, who have taken name of Shri S.R.P. Kalluri, the then DIG-cum-SSP of Dantewada among those who torched the houses in village Tadmetla. The tour programme of Shri S.R.P. Kalluri also reveals that he was present at Chintalnar outpost during the same period. Hence, involvement of Shri S.R.P. Kalluri also can’t be fully ruled out. If prosecution is thought fit to be recommended against the SPOs, who have been identified by the villagers having committed the offences, then the same logic would also apply for Shri S.R.P. Kalluri and Shri D.S. Maravi, as they have been also identified by the villagers and they were leading the operation. There is no other evidence than the statements of villagers to prove that the accused SPOs, who have been identified by the villagers had entered into the village Tadmetla on the incident day or not. If we consider the statements of CRPF/CoBRA as an additional proof for the SPOs having entered the village then it is worth mentioning here that they have stated in general about all the SPOs/CG Police party without taking any individual’s name, hence, if their evidence is applicable to individual SPOs, then it would also be applicable to Shri S.R.P. Kalluri and Shri D.S. Maravi. As per the tour programme of Shri S.R.P.Kalluri collected during investigation, he was available at Chintalnar Chowki during the period and village Tadmetla is only 10/12 km away from the Chintalnar Chowki.
While the U-turn on Kalluri served to ensure the influential police officer would not have to face prosecution, the final chargesheets were also drafted to dilute may of the CBI’s more damaging conclusions.
How the CBI covered up its own findings
The differences between the CBI’s internal report and the chargesheets it filed in court are revealing on several counts.
The CBI report notes that there is no question that 160 houses were burnt in Tadmetla village on March 16, 2011. The question is who did it – the Maoists, as the police FIR claims; or the SPOs and security forces as the villagers claim.
The CBI chargesheet baldly states that the villagers named certain SPOs responsible for burning the houses, making the villagers’ claims the sole basis of its charge. In fact, its internal report is far more damning:
“Witnesses from CRPF/CoBRA have stated that local police/SPOs had entered the village and they were only cordoning the village from outside at the Nala. This proves the falsity of the contents of the FIR as well as falsity of the statements of police/SPOs that they never entered village Tadmetla.”
Further, the villagers had reported the security forces using matchsticks, burning wood from the houses etc to set fire. The CSFL report also did not find any trace of kerosene or explosive substances. “Hence, the negative report of CFSL can be also read as a corroboration to the statements of villagers.”
As for the police theory that the Maoists burnt the houses, the CBI report says: “Except for the FIR and statements of police personnel there is no other evidence to substantiate this.”
Presence of Naxalites and firing
According to the FIR filed by Marawi: ‘At around 7-8 am, while crossing a river to reach Tadmetla, the armed Naxalites, in order to harm the police party, opened fire on them, The police party retaliated, returned fire and tried to surround the armed Naxals. The armed Naxals torched the houses in the village and ran towards the forest. The police party chased them, the armed Naxals also ambushed the police party and kept on firing at the police party. No damage was caused to the police party.’ The police FIR had registered a case of attempt to murder and rioting against Maoists.
The CBI’s internal report, however, states:
“On the contrary, other police/CRPF witnesses, who were also there near nala have stated having not faced any attack by naxals… or heard any gunshots. If there was heavy firing from naxals for which they could not enter into the village, then at least all the security personnel would have been aware about the attack and would have heard the gunshots….This really creates doubt if at all there was any encounter with naxals on that date as claimed by police.”
It also says that the villagers all denied any Naxals being present in the village on that date.
Given that it was unlikely that there were any Maoists present, the CBI also dismisses the charges of rioting and attempt to murder against them.
Wrongful confinement and torture
The CBI internal report says: “No allegation was made in the FIR regarding the wrongful confinement, but during the course of investigation, some villagers of Tadmetla village levelled allegation of torture and wrongful confinement. There are allegations of two types of illegal confinement and torture viz, (i) wrongful confinement of two villagers namely Madvi Handa and Madvi Aiyta in as much as the police personnel caught hold of them and took them to Chintalnar Chowki and (ii) wrongful confinement of villagers in general in as much as police personnel beat up the villagers, forced them out of their houses, made them stand in a restricted area and then torched their houses.”
The CBI quotes a CRPF witness, as well as the tahsildar to corroborate the statements by Madvi Handa and Aiyta that they were taken away. As for the beating up of the villagers in general, the CBI report notes that there are discrepancies in specifics of time and place, but given that the villagers were illiterate, that there were four hamlets, and the situation was chaotic, it comes down in favour of the villagers:
“What is common in all the statements of the villagers is that the security force entered into village, they beat up many of the villagers, many of the villagers were forced out of their houses, many of them were rounded up and made confined to a particular place in the village and that they torched their houses.”
The police FIR itself was silent on rapes, but the CBI took it up on the basis of the villagers’ complaints. The variance between what the chargesheet says on rape and what the internal note says is most striking. According to the chargesheet,
“Smt. MJ could not identify any person committing rape on her. No evidence to substantiate the allegation was found during investigation.”
According to the closure report, however, the rape is proved, even though the perpetrators cannot be identified:
“Though the allegations of rape is proved by the statement of the victim herself, by corroboration of the fact of injury mark near eye available on MJ, by corroboration of the fact that she was lying unconscious, but as no individual responsible for the stated offence of rape could be identified, hence, no further action can be taken in this matter.”
As per these findings, the survivor is entitled to compensation at the very least.
Multiple Discrepancies in Records
In the chargesheet filed on village Timapuram, the CBI is completely silent on the allegations that two villagers, Manu Yadav and Badse Bhima, were killed by the security forces. However, its internal closure report suggests that the un-named Naxal was indeed an ordinary farmer, Manu Yadav, who was taken away from his home by SPOs and killed. Pointing out discrepancies in the timing of the FIR, the inquest report, clothes allegedly worn and the evidence provided by two CRPF personnel, the report concludes:
“it further strengthens the doubt that perhaps as alleged by the villagers, Sodi Manu was abducted and later killed by the security personnel of Chhattisgarh Police, when he was trying to flee from the captivity of the security personnel.”
In the closure chargesheet filed in the CBI court on village Morpalli, where two rapes and one murder were alleged by villagers, the CBI concludes that custodial rape could not be proved because the victim mentioned the presence of a lady SPO in Chintalnar thana, and going by police records, there was no lady SPO posted in the thana that day. But given the state of police records and their concerted efforts to cover up anything untoward, as noted by the CBI itself, this is hardly surprising. Indeed, the list of personnel provided by the SP Sukma does not even mention the SPO who was allegedly killed in the operations
The internal closure report of the CBI also points to the casual manner in which the state police approached the CBI investigation, almost taking its exertions for granted. When asked to send the Naxalite literature they allegedly seized during the operations at Timapuram in March 2011, they sent material pertaining to 2013.
Disclosure: Nandini Sundar, a petitioner in the case filed in the Supreme Court, pursuant to which the Central Bureau of Investigation was tasked to investigate the 2011 incidents, is married to one of the founding editors of The Wire,