Dantewada area not fully in our control: Raman Singh

By Sujeet Kumar, IANS,

Raipur : No one found guilty will be spared, Chief Minister Raman Singh says on the Dantewada arson incident in which policemen allegedly went on the rampage in three tribal hamlets of Chhattisgarh. But he is quick to add that the area is not fully under government control.

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Reacting to the attack on Swami Agnivesh, Singh said he had warned the social activist against going to Dantewada as there was a possibly of a “people’s outburst”.

“The government will act hard, no one, no policeman will go scot free if the probe report indicts them,” Singh told IANS even as his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government faces possibly its strongest ever criticism since it came into power for the Dantewada episode.

Villagers of Tarmetla and two other nearby tribal hamlets in Dantewada district have alleged that policemen had gone on the rampage between March 11 and 16, burning down over 200 houses, killing people and even raping women.

Singh, however, said Tarmetla was not fully under the government’s control.

“Everyone knows that the Tarmetla area is not under the government’s full control. In recent months police have made some penetration and challenged Maoists who are using local people as a human shield in the battle against police,” the 59-year-old politician said.

Tarmetla, about 500 km south of capital Raipur, is the area where Maoists had massacred 76 security April 6 last year, including 75 of them belonging to the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

Singh said the “forces still struggle to enter certain jungle areas in Bastar where Maoists dominate, they have buried landmines, there is always a possibility of civilians coming to harm in the case of crossfire, but the probe report will make everything clear because I too want to know the facts of the Tarmetla arson case”.

Singh, who has headed the BJP government since December 2003 in the country’s worst Maoist insurgency-hit state, on March 24 set up a four-member probe panel besides ordering a magisterial inquiry. Newspaper photographs showed the devastation in the areas.

Singh said the “probe will be completely ‘fair and impartial’. I have transferred the Dantewada collector R. Prasanna and Senior Superintendent of Police S.R.P. Kalluri because there was lack of coordination among them and also to ensure that the probe is influenced by anyone”.

He, however, chose to remain silent in the state assembly as the stormy budget session ended Thursday, refusing to make a statement on the Dantewada incident despite the Congress paralysing the house since Monday and terming the incident a fallout of ‘jungle raj’.

Even Swami Agnivesh and some mediamen accompanying him were attacked by a mob in Dantewada March 26 while they were on their way to Tarmetla. Agnivesh was pulled out of his car, manhandled and eggs were thrown at him allegedly by policemen in civilian clothes and cadres of the anti-Maoist militia Salwa Judum. The protesters stoned Agnivesh’s convoy and forced him to return.

Singh remarked: “I provided him full security, I had personally told him before he headed to Dantewada that the area is very sensitive, ‘I will give you (Agnivesh) security cover till the location where we are in a position to provide it,’ I had also told him that people of the area have suffered too many Maoist brutalities, so people’s outburst is a possibility.

“Agnivesh should have avoided going to the media in Raipur and New Delhi about what happened to him in Dantewada, it spoils the atmosphere.”

The Congress had sent a 10-member team of party legislators to Dantewada villages March 29 to make an on the spot assessment but they were arrested in Dantewada and returned without reaching Ground Zero.

Asked why his government was stopping those who wanted to know the truth, Singh said: “It’s not an area you can easily go to, roads have multiple-layer landmines and Maoists are dominant, each time an outsider attempts to go there, police have to go first to open the roads and clear the landmines.”