Raipur: The Silger village in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district has become a point of serious clash between the administration and tribal leaders, with the police asserting its right to set up a joint security forces camp in the area even as locals continue to protest it.
The battle comes after the Chhattisgarh Police established a joint camp — comprising the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), District Reserve Guard and CoBRA personnel — in the village on 11 May. The strength of the camp is estimated at roughly 130. The locals started protesting against it almost immediately, calling it illegal.
On 17 May, four protestors were killed in a police firing incident at the site. While tribal leaders said the dead were locals and called for a high court justice-led probe, the police said they were Maoists.
Now, officials heading the anti-Naxal operations in Bastar region told ThePrint that the protests are stage-managed by the Maoists as Silger is a strategically crucial location for the administration to take the Maoists head-on, with the village serving as a gateway to barge into core Naxal areas.
“It’s like now we have knocked down their door. Next time we will be entering into their drawing room,” said Sundarraj P., the Bastar Inspector General who heads the anti-Maoist operations in the region.
“The security forces camp at Silger is a big jolt for extortion activities of the Naxals in their south-Bastar stronghold. They will do all to prevent our march into their hideouts. Present protest is part of the same design. It’s stage-managed by the Maoists,” the officer said.
However, tribal leaders said the joint camp of security forces, which involves majority CRPF personnel, was illegal and raised overnight. They questioned the government on setting up a police camp in the middle of a lockdown.
They also denied that the villagers killed last month were Maoists, calling for a higher probe into the incident.
Why Silger is crucial, and how protests are ‘managed’
According to security officials, Silger and its nearby forest covers have always been Maoist strongholds, where the government had no reach so far.
This is also the same belt where the Maoists ambushed a police patrolling party on 3 April and killed 22 security personnel. The Jonaguda village, where the incident took place, is barely 5 km from Silger.
Officials said many security camps have come up in the Bastar region in the last couple of years, but Silger is important.
Speaking about the protests, the Bastar IG said most of the participants are from villages far away from Silger. “Banners and posters raised by them have exactly the same scripts as that of statement leaflets issued by the ultras on 19 May,” he said.
Sundarraj claimed that Silger locals support the security forces “as they know the benefits the village will get from the camps that often act as the lone source of basic services like opening of PDS shops, roads, electricity and drinking water in these remote areas”.
The official also claimed that none of the “injured” persons on 17 May in the firing between Naxals and police were from Silger. He stressed that the police was compelled to retaliate after some of the 3,000 members from frontal Maoists organisations present there opened fire at the camp, taking cover of the villagers.
“There is no question of going back on the camp. It’s a known fact that Maoists are behind the ongoing agitation at Silger. Even villagers know this well but they are under tremendous pressure as Naxals have threatened them to charge Rs 11,000 fine if they do not join the protest. However all efforts are on to resolve the issue. It will be over soon.” said Bijpur Superintendent of Police Kamlochan Kashyap.
The senior police officials are hopeful that protestors will retreat soon.
Camp is illegal, say tribal leaders, police denies it
Tribal leaders and activists, however, argued that the land where the camp has been set up is occupied illegally as permission wasn’t taken from the village panchayat, which is mandatory under Schedule five of the Constitution of India.
“It’s mandatory to obtain permission from gram sabha for any developmental works in scheduled areas but the Silger camp was set up in the dead of night, around 3 am, on 12 May, without informing the villagers let alone seeking their consent through a gram sabha or otherwise,” said noted tribal rights activist Bela Bhatia.
“The people of Silger got to know about the camp later in the day from residents of a neighbouring village who came there for the weekly market,” Bhatia added.
However, SP Kashyap denied this allegation. “The camp was not set up overnight as is being made out. It was part of the government’s action plan to counter Naxal menace in the region as they have become a challenge to the national sovereignty let alone Chhattisgarh,” he said.
“All the needed legal and constitutional obligations were fulfilled before Silger Village camp became operational,” said Kashyap.
Leaders call for probe into police firing, officials say ready to face it
Bhatia, who was among the first to reach the firing site after the 17 May incident, said four persons died out of which three men (Uika Pandu, Ursa Bhima and Kawasi Waga) died on the spot while a pregnant woman succumbed to the injuries at her home.
“She sustained serious injuries in the stampede resulting from police firing. Government must order a probe by at least a sitting high court judge and scrap or suspend the police camp at Silger,” said Bhatia.
An SDM rank official is currently investigating the incident.
All India Adivasi Mahasabha president and former MLA Manish Kunjam said he personally met the families of killed tribals, and claimed that there was no firing from protestors.
“Those killed in police firing were innocent tribals. We demand action against erring policemen who were killed and an investigation by a retired HC judge. Ongoing magisterial probe is mere a legal tradition and will not yield anything” said Kunjam.
The Bhupesh Baghel government has constituted a fact finding panel of Congress legislators too.
Officials said they will welcome every decision of the government and are ready to face all probes. “Security forces have nothing to hide. We have maintained from the beginning that those killed in firing were Maoists. All facts and details will be provided to the fact finding team or probe committee duly constituted under the law,” said Sundarraj.