Bijapur encounter: apologise & pay compensation
After strident posturing, both the union home ministry and the Chhattisgarh government have come round to accept that innocent villagers were killed in the Bijapur encounter that saw 19 killed.
Union home minister P Chidambaram was the first to accept the possibility of the operation going awry when he said on Wednesday: “The encounter for some reason is being called a fake one. If any innocent person has been killed, I am deeply sorry.”
A day later, on Thursday, the Chhattisgarh government decided to hold an independent judiciary inquiry by a high court judge. The announcement comes following an all-round criticism, from the human rights groups to opposition political parties and even the union home ministry. While the human rights groups and Congress party, including union minister for tribal affairs Kishore Chadra Singh Deo, described the encounter as “fake”, the home ministry felt due restraints were not observed which led to the loss of many innocent villagers, many of whom were minors.
This turnaround is a belated attempt, but a welcome one, to bring sanity. The two inquiries already ordered, one by the district administration and the other by the CRPF, were seen largely as cover-up exercises since both maintained the encounter to be genuine and happened in retaliation to firing from the Maoists. The chief minister had dismissed the killing of innocents by saying that they were used as “human shield” by the Maoists.
The operational details seem to suggest there were indeed armed men at the village gathering but the response of the security forces, comprising 400 personnel from CRPF and CoBRA force, was disproportionate to the threat. So far, only seven have been claimed to be Maoists by the security forces.
With an independent judicial inquiry, the possibility of truth coming out is more. But that is not an end in itself. They key lies in not only pointing out the operational failures, if any, but why and what should be done to reduce them in future operations.
Faith of people in such operations would be greatly enhanced if the failures are accepted, apology is offered and compensations are paid.
There appears problem with orientation and training of the security forces. It also appears that there is no clear standard operating procedure (SoP) which defines the rule of engagement, especially when the insurgents are in company with innocent villagers. The security forces are meant to protect people and target the insurgents. Better training and understanding of their role is required.
Fake encounters or killing of innocents don’t do any good to people’s faith in security forces. Rather, such incidents dent credibility of the security forces and alienate them from people. Any operation that reduces people’s faith in the state machinery would only help insurgency grow.