It will be hard for security forces in Chhattisgarh to live down the assertion by the Justice V.K. Agarwal judicial enquiry commission that no evidence existed to support the claim that the 17 people who died in the encounter on the night of June 28-29, 2012, in three villages in Bijapur and Sukma districts were Naxalites. In the official narration, two teams led by a DIG marched into the forests to outflank subversives in a meeting only to be surprised by gunfire. And when the light of day penetrated the fog of battle, 17 Naxalites lay dead, and six uniformed personnel hurt. But the commission found no evidence of a gunfight, and held that firing had been one-sided beginning to end.
The findings are a chilling and sordid catalogue of how truth can be subverted and buried by the very officers who are supposed to enforce the law. Though the commission puts it down to a disproportionate reaction from the anti-naxal formation, the findings make it clear that the entire operation was botched from the start by poor intelligence, inadequate training, lack of communication, and hasty reaction. The more worrying part was afterwards. Postmortem reports showed injuries on 10 of those killed were on their backs, not consistent with claims the firing had been in self-defence. Instead, the nature and location of the injuries suggested they were fired upon while fleeing, and in no position to pose a threat. There were bullet shots on some of the heads, evidently from close quarters. There were injuries on the upper torsos caused by the butt of guns or rifles, signs of physical assault. The cataloguing and managing of the evidence relating to the armaments such as guns and detonators allegedly carried by the Naxalites suffered from imprecise documentation. There were signs of manipulation in the timing of injury and post-mortem reports in at least one case. What is worse for the security forces is that the commission concluded that injuries sustained by the uniformed personnel were more likely caused through friendly fire. Some of the recommendations are unexceptional, given the frequency of such incidents. Most remarkable however, is the recommendation that training be imparted to improve mental fabric of security forces with a view to make them more balanced so that they act with equanimity and do not succumb to panic reaction even in a critical situation. Ways must be found to initiate action against the officers involved in this unfortunate operation and its heinous cover up.