The Central Bureau of Investigation, which was entrusted by the Supreme Court in 2011 to investigate police violence and arson in three Adivasi villages in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, withheld its findings from the court when it filed its closure report in 2016, a leaked internal memo of the CBI shows. In doing so, India’s premier investigating agency shielded senior police officers who are believed to have ordered the mayhem in the villages, attempted to paint it as an anti-Naxal operation, and worked to ensure that the CBI investigation could not be conducted properly. One of them is the controversial SRP Kalluri, who has been previously accused of human rights violations.
The BJP has been ruling Chhattisgarh since 2003. The leaked memo is significant as it shows that the CBI – which already has the reputation of being at the beck and call of the party ruling at the Centre – is willing to withhold information of the kind that could embarrass the ruling party even from the Supreme Court. News of the leaked memo also comes ahead of Assembly elections in the state, where, in the last election, the three villages that saw the police violence and arson registered dismal voter turnouts.
Several reports confirmed that three men were killed, three women were sexually assaulted and about 300 houses were torched in Tadmetla, Morpalli and Timmapuram villages in 2011, during an alleged anti-Naxal operation by the police between March 10 and March 16. Additionally, two villagers abducted by the police after that operation were detained for two months until they managed to escape.
In July 2011, the Supreme Court had asked the CBI to investigate the incidents in Sukma as well as an attack on social activist Swami Agnivesh, while he was attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to the affected villages, days after the violence. Chhattisgarh had offered to constitute an inquiry commission headed by a retired high court judge to look into the incidents. But, indicating that it did not trust the state, the Supreme Court said it “felt constrained to hand over the investigation immediately to the CBI”.
The CBI submitted to the court a three-and-half page final closure report in October 17, 2016. It was based on a visit a CBI team made to Tadmetla village on January 12, 2012, during which several witnesses were examined. For the investigation, the CBI also spoke to the tehsildar, who visited the village after a month, becoming the first government official to do so since the violence, and also examined the findings of a report by the Central Forensic Science Laboratory.
In its report, the CBI said that 160 houses had been burnt down in Tadmetla village and that it had chargesheeted seven special police officers and 29 leaders of the Salwa Judum, a state-sponsored anti-Maoist civil vigilante movement, for attacking the convoy of Swami Agnivesh. It also chargesheeted one Maoist cadre, who it said was absconding. The report mentioned that the police had been accused of sexually assaulting two women, not three. It said while one of those two women could not be traced, it could not verify if the second woman had indeed been sexually assaulted.
What the CBI report did not mention was that the agency suspected that senior police officer SRP Kalluri, then the senior superintendent of police in Dantewada, was involved in the arson, and that police personnel were behind the violence. The agency’s leaked internal memo – also dated October 17, 2016 – had these details.
Questions were emailed to the spokesperson of the CBI. This story will be updated if responses are received.
What the CBI withheld from the court
According to the memo, the CBI examined two sets of witnesses to establish the role of police personnel in the incidents – 27 from Tadmetla village and 18 from the Central Reserve Police Force’s Cobra battalion who had accompanied the state police in the alleged anti-Naxal operation. The memo identifies all the witnesses by name.
The Tadmetla witnesses identified former special police officers by their names to the CBI. Two of them specifically identified Kalluri as the person who torched their homes. The CBI established the presence of Kalluri in the area through the tour log maintained in Chintalnar Chowki – a police post 12 km away from Tadmetla– but was unable to verify if he had travelled to the village itself as “no further evidence” was available “on record”.
The memo says:
“It is worth mentioning here that there are two witnesses…who have taken name of Shri SRP Kalluri, the then DIG cum-SSP of Dantewada among those who torched the houses in village Tadmetla. The tour programme of Shri SRP Kalluri also reveals that he was present at Chintalnar outpost during the same period. Hence, involvement of Shri SRP Kalluri also can’t be fully ruled out. If prosecution is thought fit to be recommended against the SPOs [special police officers], who have been identified by the villagers having committed the offences, then the same logic would also apply for Shri SRP Kalluri and Shri DS Maravi, as they have been also identified by the villagers and they were leading the operation.”
The memo goes on to recommend that a lie detection test be conducted on the special police officers as well as Kalluri as his involvement in the incident of violence “cannot be fully ruled out”.
The memo said:
“It is also worth mentioning here that if [a] decision to undertake Lie Detection Test is taken, then alongwith the SPOs [special police officers], now given the facts and circumstances, it would also require to be undertaken for senior police officers like Shri SRP Kalluri, the then SSP & DIG of Dantewada, now IG of Police, Bastar Range, Shri DS Maravi, the then ASP, Sukma etc.”
It is clear from the internal memo that the CBI had “instructed” its officers to drop the names of the two witnesses who identified Kalluri from the list of witnesses to be submitted in the court.
No presence of Naxals
When news of the violence first emerged, it led to an uproar. Additional superintendent of police DS Marawi subsequently filed a First Information Report on March 25, 2011, in connection with the incident. The FIR said that Marawi was leading a police party to Tadmetla on March 15 night, when at 7am or 8 am on March 16, Naxalites opened fire on them as they were crossing a river near the village. It said that the police retaliated, returned fire and tried to surround the Naxalites, who set fire to the houses in the village and ran into the forest. The police chased them but the Naxalites kept on firing at the police. No one from the police was hurt. Police witnesses examined by the CBI deposed that they were unable to enter the village “on account of heavy firing by Naxals.”
The internal memo indicates that the police were lying in the FIR. It said that the Central Reserve Police Force witnesses stated that “the local police/SPOs [special police officers] had entered the village and they [the CRPF] were only cordoning the village from outside at the Nala”. The memo adds: “[This] proves the falsity of the contents of the FIR as well as falsity of the statements of the police/SPOs that they never entered village Tadmetla”.
Further, contrary to police claims that they came under heavy firing from Maoists, the Central Reserve Police Force witnesses said they did not hear any gun shots. The village witnesses concurred. The memo raises doubts over the very presence of the Naxals in the area. It noted that the police could not identify any Naxal cadre by name and that the forensic report had established that no explosives or fuel were used to set fire to the houses in the village, which corroborated the statements by village witnesses who consistently maintained that the police used matches and burning wood to set their houses on fire.
Though the memo concluded that security forces had entered the village, driven the villagers out of their homes and rounded them up as their houses were set on fire, the CBI report submitted in court makes no mention of this. The sole Maoist chargesheeted is called Ravi, but there are no further details about him. This name appears to have been inserted to continue the confusion whether the arson was caused by Naxals or by the police.
The CBI also examined the allegations that the police had abducted two Tadmetla villagers. The memo notes that the FIR is silent on this incident. It adds that the investigation concluded that two men – Madvi Ayta and Madvi Handa – had been kept in “wrongful confinement” and that this was corroborated consistently by all the Tadmetla witnesses as well as by the tehsildar, who said that villagers informed him that two men were missing when he visited the village to assess the losses caused by the violence and arson. The abduction is further corroborated by a Central Reserve Police Force jawan, who told the CBI that the police party had brought back two civilians when they returned from Tadmetla village. Subsequently, the CBI even met the men, who confirmed they were picked up by the police and kept in custody for two months till they escaped.
Though the CBI report to the Supreme Court notes that two men had been abducted, it was silent on the findings of its investigation as detailed in its internal memo.
Although there were reports of the rape of three women during the violence in the three villages, the CBI memo mentions the rape of only two women in Tadmetla village. It says while one of them could not be traced, the second woman deposed before the CBI, saying that she had been raped by two police personnel, while admitting that she would not be able to identify the perpetrators. She claimed she had sustained an eye injury during the assault after which she fell unconscious. The CBI physically verified her injury but was unable to corroborate her statement with other witnesses, who said though they had seen her unconscious and that she had sustained an injury near her eye, they had “not been witness” to the act of rape.
Despite the fact that the CBI recorded the victim’s statement saying she was raped, and verified that she had indeed been injured, and despite witnesses saying that they had seen her lying unconscious, the closure report said “no evidence to substantiate the allegation was found during investigation”.
Deliberate lapses by the police
The general diary maintained by the police in Chintalnar to log the daily movement of personnel failed to provide details of the policemen who participated in the so-called anti-Naxal operation. While the FIR mentions 340 personnel participated in it, the Sukma superintendent of police’s office furnished a list of 323 personnel to the CBI, vaguely mentioning that “250 personnel of CG [Chhattisgarh] Police and 95 personnel of CRPF/CoBRA” participated in the Tadmetla operation. It did not give any details. The agency managed to examine only 75 witnesses from this list, of whom several claimed they did not participate in the operation, noted the memo. It concluded that either the Sukma superintendent of police had given the CBI an “erroneous list” or the special police officers were not telling the truth, thus making it difficult for them to examine those involved in the operation and reach the truth.
The police also failed to furnish the CBI with details of the ammunition handed over to the special police officers for the operation. The FIR mentions that 89 rounds were fired. The district superintendent explained to the CBI team that “they issue weapons and ammunitions after training of the police force depending on their place of posting which they use in the forcoming operations”.
The memo noted that the unregulated and unaccounted for issuance of weapons and ammunitions could “lead to illegal trading of ammunitions to the very perpetrators of Naxalism and terrorism”.
The memo also notes how the local police in Dornapal and Kanker made serious efforts “to fustrate” their investigation. It said on February 9, 2012, the CBI team was attacked by former special police officers and the police dissuaded them from reaching their destination for an investigation on November 2, 2015. The memo also noted how Chhattisgarh filed a false affidavit denying the attack, and covered for the former special police officers. “It is worrisome that those assigned to ‘provide security for smooth conduct of field investigation’, attacked CBI,” said the agency in an affidavit to the Supreme Court on October 1, 2015, where it outlined the reasons for its delay in conducting the investigation into the 2011 attack.
In effect, the police succeeded in bringing the CBI investigation almost to a grinding halt. Shaken after the attack on them, and concerned over security, the investigation was shifted to Jagdalpur, the division headquarters of Bastar, about 186 km from the site of the incident. This made it difficult for witnesses from the affected villages to depose before the CBI.
Though the memo has all these details, the closure report makes no mention of the difficulties faced by the CBI team with regard to getting information from the police. Neither does it mention the attack on its team by the former special police officers.
Impunity to unleash terror
When the CBI charge sheet was announced in 2016, Kalluri had risen in the ranks. From a deputy inspector general-ranked special superintendent of police in Dantewada under whose direction the Tadmetla operation was carried out, he had become the inspector general of police of the entire Bastar division comprising six districts. This made it easier for Kalluri to “monitor the information sought by the CBI from the local police and the information furnished by local police to CBI” it noted in its affidavit of October 2015.
Days after the CBI filed its report with the Supreme Court, its chargesheet against seven police personnel and against 29 leaders of the Salwa Judum, Kalluri held a press conference, accusing those “creating an atmosphere of doubt and trying to break the morale of the police” as anti-national. This was on October 22, 2016, and Kalluri was alluding to Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar, who in 2007 had filed a petition against the Salwa Judum in the Supreme Court. In July 2011, the court had ruled that the Judum’s special police officers were unconstitutional and ordered that the body be disbanded. Kalluri also filed a criminal case of murder against Sundar, threatening her from entering Bastar.
Kalluri then thundered in a TV interview, “If any action is to be taken, it should be taken against me as I was the SSP then…I am responsible.” Soon after this speech, former special police officers across the six districts of Bastar took out a rally and burnt effigies of social activists, journalists and Sundar.
No action taken
None of the seven former special police officers chargesheeted by the CBI have been arrested so far. They have instead been “line-attached,” which means that they will not be included in anti-Naxalite operations but will remain employed with the police without any impact on their salaries or benefits.
The other 29 people chargesheeted for attacks against Swami Agnivesh, including P Vijay and Soyam Mooka, continued to terrorise lawyers, activists and journalists with the open support of Kalluri when he moved in as the inspector general of police in Bastar in June 2014.
Marawi is alleged to have staged another alleged Maoist ambush a year later, in February 2012, where the leader of the special police officers, Kartam Surya, a key person in the Tadmetla operation, and his driver were killed. Surya’s wife believes Surya was killed in a police ambush and not a Maoist ambush, as claimed by the police. Maravi is currently posted as assistant commandant with the Chhattisgarh Armed Force in Janjgir Champa district.
Kalluri was shifted out of Dantewada in March 2011 soon after the attacks against Swami Agnivesh. He returned to Bastar region as inspector general of police in June 2014 and was shifted to Raipur in February 2017 following summons from the National Human Rights Commission to explain allegations that he was responsible for a series of human rights violations, as well as his harassment of human rights activists.
Abhishek Shandilya, who was the superintendent of police in Sukma in 2011, and could have been complicit in the violence in several ways by virtue of being the most senior officer in the district at that time, is currently posted with the CBI as superintendent of police, Anti-Corruption Bureau.
Fate of Assembly elections
Amidst this, Chhattisgarh is headed towards Assembly elections. The first phase of the polls will be held on November 12, in 12 constituencies of Bastar and six in Rajnandgaon district. The second phase will be held on November 20, and counting is scheduled for December 11. In the previous Assembly elections, 20% of the NOTA (None of the Above) vote in the state came from Bastar. In Konta constituency, of which the three villages are a part, 5.28% of the voters chose NOTA. Konta has also shown an increase in the number of polling booths recording zero votes (from 18 in 2008 to 27 in 2013), and less than 20 votes (from 13 to 21).
Morpalli, one of the affected villages, which also serves as a polling centre for six nearby villages, polled “zero votes” out of its 924 registered voters. Silger, a polling centre for two villages including Timmapuram, polled a single vote from 1,133 electors. Burkapal, the polling booth for two villages including Tadmetla, with a strength of 1,719 electors, polled less than 6%.