New Delhi: The Congress-led Chhattisgarh government is locked in a conflict with the Centre over a fresh case registered by the state police over a 2013 ambush by suspected Maoist rebels in which 27 people, including senior Congress leaders, were killed, people familiar with the matter said requesting anonymity.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) wrote a letter to the Chhattisgarh police last week asking it not to proceed with the investigation in a first information report (FIR) registered by Bastar police on May 26 because the central agency was already investigating it, the people quoted above added.
The ministry of home affairs (MHA) too has opined that since both the FIRs (registered on May 25, 2013 and May 26, 2020) relate to the same incident , NIA, which investigates acts of terrorism, has the powers to take over the probe related to the fresh FIR too, the documents, accessed by HT, have revealed.
On May 25, 2013, around 150 suspected members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) attacked a cavalcade of Congress leaders in an ambush at Jheerum Ghati in Chhattisgarh’s Sukhma district, killing 27 people, including senior leaders Nand Kumar Patel, Mahendra Karma, Dinesh Patel and Vidya Charan Shukla.
NIA on June 16 approached a special court in Jadgalpur saying that the Chhattisgarh police would be violating the section 6 of the NIA Act, which specifically prohibits the state government from proceeding with any investigation once a case is entrusted to the agency.
In a letter to the Bastar superintendent of police on June 10, Amit Singh, NIA’s chief investigating officer of the Jheerum Ghati attack, asked that all May 26, 2020 FIR-related documents be transferred to the agency. He asked the police not to proceed with the investigation as “it may lead to vexatious and avoidable litigation due to conflict of jurisdiction”. HT has reviewed a copy of the letter to the state police.
Singh said a charge sheet had already been filed against nine suspects in September 2015 in the case and searches were being carried out for arresting 25 more and the trial too was at an advanced stage. HT has reviewed copies of NIA’s letter to the Bastar SP, its petition in the court and MHA’s opinion.
Bastar’s inspector general of police Sundarraj P told HT :“We are taking a legal opinion on NIA’s plea after which a decision will be taken”.
NIA informed the special court last week that “the contents of FIR (registered by Bastar police on May 26, 2020) fall in the definition of terrorist act as well as in the ambit of scheduled offence prescribed in the NIA Act, 2008”, while urging the court to give directions to state police not to pursue it.
The Chhattisgarh government is in no mood to hand over the probe to the central agency, said the state government officials familiar with the matter. The state government has, over past couple of years, repeatedly questioned NIA’s credibility, saying it didn’t probe a conspiracy angle. Chief minister Bhupesh Baghel himself has said on numerous occasions that the Centre is not allowing a thorough probe by the state government by refusing to transfer the NIA case to it.
The Chhattisgarh Congress communications department ‘s Shailesh Nitin Trivedi said – “We have been saying from day one that it was a political criminal conspiracy, which NIA has failed to unearth. We will do everything to find out what exactly happened in that in 2013 incident in which our beloved Congress leaders were brutally murdered by Naxals. Why is the Centre not investigating the larger conspiracy angle?”.
The Baghel government, in January, moved the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the NIA Act, saying it takes away the powers of states enshrined in the constitution to investigate crimes . The NIA is currently empowered to take over any case in states without their consent. Chhattisgarh is the first state ever to challenge the entire NIA Act.
The NIA didn’t respond to phone calls or an SMS query.