About 10 to 12 days ago, we were given a specific and clear-cut intelligence input from the Andhra Pradesh police that a Naxal military company of the ‘Andhra Orissa Bureau’ was moving from AP to Sukma and Dantewada. According to the input, this company was moving outside its zone for the first time in two years. Accordingly, an Andhra officer stayed in Chhattisgarh and tied up the details of the operation with our local IG in Bastar.
Initially, the Naxal company’s location was identified as the highway from Jagdalpur to Dantewada. They comprised about 50-60 well-armed Naxalites, and whenever such a large number of people move, they leave a trail.
Then we received information that they had left the highway and moved towards the mining areas. Our men conducted operations at both these places, but could not find anyone. Then we got information that they were around the Bijapur area. Being a ‘liberated zone’, there was a high possibility of them being there. It also squared with the intelligence we had gathered, according to which the Naxals had allegedly been conducting a training camp at Silgerh for quite sometime. So, this was the time we decided to launch an operation.
As per the plan, we launched operations from three different places—from Basaguda, at Jagarmunda (an isolated post that can’t be reached by foot, so we air-lifted personnel in choppers there), and a third party was to come from the Chintalnar route. All three had to converge in Silgerh for the operation. So, the place where the encounter took place was not our destination. It was on the Basaguda route that their sentries fired and injured our men and we fired in retaliation.
In all, there were 800 men consisting of two units of cobra, one CRPF battalion, and state police. At around 8-9 pm, all three parties started moving from their respective locations towards Silgerh. The encounter took place at around 1 am near Basaguda where 18 died. Simultaneously, there was a small encounter at Penta on the route from Chintalnar towards Silgerh. There were two Naxal casualties in that encounter.
Out of the 19 deaths, we have confirmation that at least seven were Naxals. We are not denying that there have been civilian casualties. But what has happened is that in that chance encounter that took place, they fired and injured our people and we had to fire in retaliation.
It is only the party that had started from Jagarmunda that reached Silgerh. But I guess that was enough time for the Naxals to move out of the zone. Because when we reached there, we did not get anything. The entire night was gone and they had enough time to clear out.
There is always a fact-finding inquiry whenever bullets fly from our end. It’s standard protocol and the process is on. This fact-finding inquiry happens every time after CRPF personnel fire either during an operation or an encounter.
As told to Toral Varia Deshpande
Pankaj Singh is IGP, operations, CRPF