CRPF officer’s revelation: Assam incident tip of the ‘fake encounter’ iceberg

Human rights activists say that a top CRPF officer’s report flagging a fake encounter in Assam in which two alleged Bodo militants were shot in cold blood in March, is just the tip of an iceberg.

india Updated: Jun 15, 2017 12:13 IST
Rahul Karmakar
Rahul Karmakar
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
CRPF,Assam,Fake encounter
File photo of security forces during an anti-insurgency operation in the Northeast.(Reuters )

A top central reserve police force (CRPF) officer’s report seeking an investigation into a case of fake encounter in Assam’s Chirang district on March 30 has opened a can of worms.

Rights activists say that the incident that the officer has flagged is one of many that are often stage-managed for medals.

Rajnish Rai, CRPF inspector general had in his April 17 report to the force’s headquarters in New Delhi alleged that the killing of two suspected members of extremist group National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) near Simlaguri village in western Assam’s Chirang district was staged.

The two men were allegedly picked up from a house in D-Kalling village and killed in cold blood in Simlaguri and weapons were planted on their bodies.

A Gujarat cadre IPS officer currently posted in Shillong, Rai has called for a thorough investigation.

Rights activists have also demanded a thorough probe by neutral agencies or judges. They said the content of Rai’s report is true of many encounters in Assam and elsewhere in the Northeast, where more than 25,000 people have died in insurgency-related incidents since the late 1950s.

Read more: Wanted ULFA (I) militant killed by army in Assam encounter

“The CRPF officer has just affirmed what the armed forces have been denying – that fake encounter happens. Last year in November, the security forces killed two teenagers on the border with Arunachal Pradesh claiming they were dreaded militants. Pistols were shown recovered from them, but ground realities were different,” Jorhat-based rights activist Bondita Acharya told HT.

She also cited the example of Ratan Narzary, who was killed in an alleged fake encounter in Chirang district on December 29 last year. Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal had ordered an enquiry after several Bodo tribal organisations said Ratan was a simple farmer and not a member of NDFB(S).

In December 2013, two boys – one in class 6 and the other in class 10 – killed in an encounter by a joint army-police team in Chirang. Security forces have been operating in tandem since the Unified Command structure was introduced almost two decades ago.

Suhas Chakma of the Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights said Manipur and Assam accounted for almost 21% of 555 fake encounter cases across India between April 2009 and April 2013.

“The state police always try and hide such cases and the Centre has no control over the states or a mechanism to deal with such cases. Whatever cases of fake encounters are registered is mainly due to the intervention of the National Human Rights Commission,” he said.

About the case in Rai’s report, Assam director general of police Mukesh Sahay said cognisance would be taken only after a magisterial enquiry into the incident is over. “An inspector general of Assam police is also probing the case. But guidelines are being strictly followed whenever there is an encounter,” he said.

A spokesperson of the army’s 4 Corps based in Tezpur declined to comment on Rai’s report. “This is being taken up at a higher level,” he said.

A copy of Rai’s report is marked to Lt Gen AS Bedi, the commanding officer of 4 Corps and chairperson of the Unified Command’s operation group.

Lust For Medals

Rights activists said encounters are often staged by officers in a bid to get medals or recommendations. “I am not sure about the central forces, but a scan through the medals tally of the state police will reveal the number of medals is directly proportional to the number of encounters,” Imphal-based activist Sobita Mangsatabam said.

Some encounters have even been staged without bloodshed, as the 2003 case of a ‘Ketchup Colonel’ revealed.

The army had in November 2004 dismissed Colonel HS Kohli, commanding officer of an artillery regiment, for faking militant kills in search of gallantry award. A court martial found Kohli and a Major who was punished with five years’ loss of service, made civilians lie like corpses, splashed tomato ketchup on their bodies and posed with the ‘kills’ for photographs to stake claim for gallantry awards.

Army officers in the Northeast have also been caught on the other side of law.

In 1998-99, a colonel deputed to the Assam Rifles was sentenced for smuggling after he was caught with four truckloads of ganja and timber.

In 2003, the defence PRO in Imphal, Colonel Ajay Chaudhury and a few others were arrested with drugs worth Rs 15 crore. And in May last year, Colonel Jasjit Singh was arrested in Aizawl on charges of highway robbery for allegedly looting a vehicle carrying 52 bars of gold worth Rs 14.5 crore.

First Published: May 24, 2017 19:18 IST