Nearly two decades after 14 people were killed in Imphal, Manipur, allegedly in CRPF firing, the Central Bureau of Investigation has filed a closure report saying the paramilitary force cannot be held accountable as there is not enough evidence against them, The Indian Express reported on Thursday.

The agency said the Central Reserve Police Force resorted to shooting at protestors in Imphal in 2001 “only as a last resort”.

It said the forces acted in self defence, and to protect further damage to public property while “controlling the wild mob” of protestors. The “circumstances were so volatile that the firing by the security personnel seemed to be unavoidable”, the CBI said.

The submissions made by the central agency contradict the findings of an inquiry by the Justice C Upendra Commission, which had found that the Central Reserve Police Force’s “ill-considered” and “unnecessary” use of force was responsible for the deaths, the newspaper reported.

The killings took place during a mass agitation in Imphal in 2001, triggered by the Bangkok accord between the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland’s Isak Muivah faction. The agreement extended the ceasefire in Manipur, which the protestors saw as a threat to the state’s territorial integrity.

Over 50,000 of them stormed the city centre and set ablaze several government buildings, including the chief minister’s secretariat inside his bungalow complex. The homes of a number of elected representatives were torched, and the protesters burnt effigies of then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Security personnel opened fire on protestors at two places – the Raj Bhawan and the chief minister’s bungalow complex. Three people had died in the Raj Bhawan firing. A case was registered against 4,000 protestors who pelted stones at the CRPF personnel there. Another first information report was filed in connection with the uprising at the chief minister’s residence.

In its closure report submitted to the chief judicial magistrate of Imphal West on October 1, the CBI has now claimed that much of the evidence – including medical reports and other documents – cannot be found. The report said that the manual medical records kept at the time have now been “disposed of”, according to The Indian Express.

Although the CBI acknowledged that 14 people had died in the shooting, and 35 in all had been injured, it said that only three deaths were officially recorded. “Apart from the three dead persons, it is not clear from these [medical records] what happened to the rest of the 32 persons,” the report said.

The central agency said that the 14 people were killed in gun firing as the security personnel “might have been compelled by the circumstances”.

It added:

“In spite of being small in number in comparison to the large number of agitating people from different directions of the district, they had the toughest time and were rendered the arduous task in controlling the wild mobs created by the agitating people and as such, their services should be appreciated.”  

— CBI closure report, The Indian Express

The Justice Upendra report though, had contradicted these claims entirely. The commission’s report had said:

“The firings which was justified initially had turned otherwise, the CRPF posted at the Chief Minister’s Bungalow complex had mishandled the situation and aggravated it unnecessarily. Their subsequent acts by making continuous firings indiscriminately even after the crowd/agitators left Chief Minister’s premises had aggravated the situation and turned it from bad to worse. It is my considered opinion that making of so many rounds continued firings after the crowd had started to leave Chief Minister’s Bungalow complex were ill considered on the part of CRPF.”    

— Justice C Upendra commission, The Indian Express

‘Case files are missing’

The Central Bureau of Investigation in its report said that the main reason why sufficient evidence against the CRPF personnel did not come on record was because the Manipur Police had lost the case docket, or all the files relating to the case.

“During the investigation it came to light that the missing case docket and that the Manipur Police had set up an investigation to trace this docket,” the CBI report said. But since the officers in charge of the case have died, the agency said the whereabouts of the case files cannot be ascertained.

“The flow of inquiry to bridge the link is hampered and fixing responsibility to any individual without examining them is not justified,” the CBI said.

Therefore, “sufficient admissible evidence has not come on record during investigation to launch prosecution against the alleged security personnel,” said the agency.

“We are shocked that the main reason for insufficient evidence is the loss of the Manipur Police docket,” it added. “This is not the first time in Manipur that legal documents, especially those pertaining to human rights violations, have been lost.”