Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh with students from Naxalite-affected areas of the state in New Delhi on Tuesday. (PTI)
New Delhi, July 4: The CRPF will review standard operating procedures (SOPs) on tackling Maoists’ “human shields” and conducting night operations, sources said today, less than a week after Friday’s controversial operation in Chhattisgarh that resulted in 19 deaths.
The move came on a day a preliminary report by a panel of state Congress leaders suggested six of those killed were villagers in their teens. Yesterday, Union tribal affairs minister Kishore Chandra Deo had said the forces had no right to “mow down” children even if they were recruited by the rebels.
The sources said the issue of compensation was also being debated but the apprehension is that any such assistance could be construed as an admission of guilt that ordinary villagers were killed in the gun battle at Sakreguda in Bijapur district. Sources close to Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh have denied any discussions on compensation so far while a magisterial inquiry was in progress.
Union home minister P. Chidambaram suggested it was up to the state’s BJP government to conduct a probe. “The encounter for some reason is being called a fake encounter. Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh spoke to me. As far as any inquiry is concerned, it’s a call he has to take.”
The decision to review CRPF procedures was taken today at a Union home ministry meeting chaired by secretary R.K Singh. Sources told The Telegraph that there would be a few “inclusions and deletions” from the list of do’s and don’ts for anti-Naxal operations. “One of these could be to assess whether all are Naxalites or not. Well, in that case, we will suffer casualties,” said a CRPF officer who attended the meeting.
CRPF inspector-general (operations) Pankaj Kumar Singh said the force would have to “put its heads together” to tackle the increasing instances of Maoists using “human shields”. The rebels have used women and children as such shields, according to security officers. They had done so in an encounter in Koel-Sankh, a “liberated zone” in Jharkhand, and in Lohardaga in the same state, the officers said.
It was also decided at today’s meeting not to use heavy equipment at night but CRPF officers described the advisory as “redundant” as such devices are not deployed anyway for tactical reasons. “We hardly use heavy mortars or heavy machinery during nights. Using heavy mortars in the night means deciding on equipment, trajectory and even risking an accident so we avoid that in most cases,” said an official.
In last week’s incident, Pankaj Kumar said the CRPF team was carrying some heavy equipment like grenade-launchers but none of it was used. But today’s reassessment could mean a fresh set of manuals on how and when to use automatic assault rifles, night-vision devices, grenades and small mortars — gadgets that are carried by troops of the CRPF and those its elite COBRA unit in battling Maoists.
Although the CRPF bosses insisted no heavy-duty weapons were used in the Bijapur incident, the Congress committee said in its preliminary findings that extreme caution should have been exercised in such operations. The final report will be submitted to Sonia Gandhi.
Boys aged between 12 and 16 were caught in the crossfire between the Maoists and the security forces but it is not clear which side started the gun battle, the committee said.
Home minister Chidambaram said he was “deeply sorry” if any innocent was killed but added this could be established only after a detailed inquiry. He claimed, however, that the CRPF team was fired upon in the jungle on Friday night and had to retaliate as part of the standard operating procedures.
Chidambaram also quoted the CRPF director-general K.Vijay Kumar that the procedures require forces to open fire if they are attacked in the dark in a forest.
Asked about the possibility about Naxalites using tribals as human shields, tribal affairs minister Deo termed it “completely unacceptable” but added the forces should handle such situations with “extreme care”. He, however, alleged that the Chhattisgarh government’s record in conducting anti-Naxalite operations was “notorious”.