My former employer, The Hindu, in its January 4 edition, has published a so-called clarification from the Inspector-General (Operations) of the CRPF in Chhattisgarh, Mr. HS Sidhu, over my report (carried in The Hindu on December 13, 2014) on the failure of command during a Maoist attack on a CRPF party in Sukma, Chhattisgarh on December 1. It is followed by a note from the newspaper's editor-in-chief, regretting "any inaccuracies that have crept into the reports". The reporter, in this case myself, has not been given a chance to respond. The newspaper has just gone ahead, presuming "inaccuracies", and by doing so has undermined its own editorial credibility.
Here's my response to Mr. Sidhu's so-called clarification:
1. After an encounter with the Maoists on November 21 in exactly the same area where it happened again on December 1, Mr. Sidhu had issued instructions to his troops, derived from "learning points" from encounter with Maoists on November 21. Its first point states: "Movement of Ops party in open ground ground is to be strictly avoided." On the morning of December 1, when Mr. Sidhu ordered the commander of the CRPF party, Mr. Sanad Kamal, to come and see him at a different location, wasn't he aware of the fact that the 100 troops of the 223 Battalion (plus others) were camping right outside Kasalpada village in an open field? Isn't he the IG, Operations of Chhattisgarh?
2. A day before the encounter that resulted in the death of 14 CRPF personnel, on November 30, hadn't Mr. Sidhu asked Mr. Kamal and his troops to move to a new GR (grid reference) where he said he will meet them. But after the party reached there, he was not there. As a result, the CRPF troops had to spend a night on a hillock (hill number 406), exposing them to Maoist attack.
In the absence of their commander, the troops panicked and, as reported by me, fired over 7,000 rounds of bullets in response to a few hundred by the Maoists.
4. Whether Mr. Sidhu was 400 metres away or 2 kms. away will be clear in the inquiry initiated by the CRPF. It will be clear once the inquiry committee compares his GPS logs to those of the slain jawans.
5. Mr. Sidhu is right when he says his team was the first team to reach the site. But when did he reach? He reached when the Maoists had killed 14 CRPF personnel and looted away all their ammunition, including highly sophisticated and deadly weapons like Underbarrel Grenade Launchers. Mr. Sidhu strongly refutes the claim that he reached the encounter site at 2.30 pm, 4 hours after the firing started. If he did not, what time did he reach? If he reached earlier, as he claims, why did he not order the immediate evacuation of the injured and the dead personnel? Why did the party reach the Chintagufa camp only at 09.30 pm in the night - just 7 kms. away from the encounter site? Is it not true that at least one jawan died on the way to the camp? Had Mr. Sidhu reached the encounter site earlier, why couldn't the jawan be saved?
I am a responsible journalist and do not twist reports. So there is no question of unfairness and malice, as Mr. Sidhu's lawyer has alleged. My report does in no way benefit me or anyone I know. As a journalist and a concerned citizen of this country, I am worried about the sorry state of affairs in the CRPF (and Maoist-affected areas) and how poor jawans and Adivasis are becoming sacrificial goats in the fight between the Indian State and the Maoists.
Mr. Sidhu and his lawyer is most welcome to pursue this case in a court of law. I am open for any scrutiny.
(All highlighted documents are from the CRPF's internal communication, including situation reports filed by other officers, accessed by the reporter through his sources)