Rashmi Drolia| TNN |
- A key Maoist operative has made claims against DU professor Nandini Sundar and rights activist Bella Bhatia.
- Podiyam Panda said he was the “only link” for meetings between senior Maoists and Sundar and Bhatia in South Bastar.
Panda alleged that he was the only link for meetings between senior Maoist leaders and DU professor Nandini Sundar.
RAIPUR: A key Maoist operative, who allegedly confessed to being part of the April 24 Sukma ambush and the 2010 Tadmetla massacre, has “surrendered” to police and made claims against Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar and rights activist Bela Bhatia at a press conference in Raipur on Wednesday.
Podiyam Panda told reporters that he was the “only link” for meetings between senior Maoists and Sundar and Bhatia in South Bastar. Panda said he used to drive activists from Delhi — including Sundar and Bhatia — on a motorbike deep into forests of Sukma for meetings with top Maoists like Ramanna, Hidma (alleged mastermind of this year’s deadly ambushes), Paparao Aaytu, Arjun and others. He said he also acted as a courier for them. When contacted, Sundar said, “It’s a false and coerced confession made in police custody.”
In a habeas corpus filed in the Chhatisgarh high court, Panda’s wife alleged that Podiyam was taken into “forced captivity” by a joint team of CRPF and district police on May 3 and was assaulted by the security personnel and demanded his “immediate production” in the court.
“He has not surrendered but has been illegally detained,” sources said.
Sukma SP Abhishek Meena said, “Maoist Podiyam Panda has been serving as the main link between inner cadre of Maoists and urban network system in Delhi, Raipur and other cities. He was also involved in active warfare. In his statement to police, he said he was part of recent Burkapal incident and had fired upon CRPF jawans with an Insas rifle. Panda was also part of the deadly Tadmetla attack that killed 75 CRPF jawans in 2010.”
Meena said Panda surrendered on May 9 after being underground for 20 years, but this was kept a secret due to security reasons and death threats. Panda was sarpanch of Chintagufa (site of the April 24 attack) before he joined the Maoists in 1997.
His information helped police arrest eight Maoists on Tuesday, Meena added.
Panda has told police in detail how he was part of the planning and execution of the Burkapal ambush and how he helped decide the site of the attack, Meena said. Panda said during the press conference that he wanted to surrender for two years but senior cadres got wind of it and kept an eye on him. “I could surrender only after the rebels deployed to watch me got arrested in Minpa region,” he said.
It was he who tipped off police about Maoists involved in the Burkapal attack living in nearby villages, aiding in their arrest, said Meena. From him, police have got vital inputs about the urban network of Maoists, along with proof of bank transactions to Maoist accounts from “influential people in Delhi”, say police. Panda carried a cash reward of Rs 1 lakh and is accused in 19 cases.
Why do you think Panda has said what he has said about you to police?He has not surrendered, but was picked up by police on May 3, 2017. His whereabouts were not shared and even his wife was not allowed to meet him. His was a coerced confession in police custody and the statements he has been forced to make are false. We have evidence that he was tortured. For 10 days, nobody was allowed to meet him. Then, after the habeas corpus case, they summoned Komal, his younger brother, to police station and beat him up as well. Komal was witness to the fact that Panda was forced to speak to his wife in police presence and (police) threatened her that she must withdraw the case.Police used Komal’s phone for that. The family had no independent contact with Panda outside police presence -they could see, however, that he had been badly tortured. He was unable to walk.
Have you met Panda? When, where and how?
Yes, I have met him and in fact written about him in my book, The Burning Forest. I have also mentioned him in my articles. I have known him for 15 years at least. It is completely false that I had met any Maoist with him.
Why do you think Panda is not a Maoist?
Because I know him and he is not a Maoist. He is a local leader.In fact, last year, the Maoists made his wife and brother attend a jan adalat and punished them for carrying out NREGA etc. He helped to get Alex Paul Menon released and in 2005 saved the lives of 7 CRPF jawans.
What do you intend to do next?
The HC has recognized that Panda is in illegal detention and any confession given in police custody is inadmissible in court. This is a false and fabricated story where police is trying to defame us.
There is an allegation that human right activ ists often don’t condemn killing of security forces. Why does this perception exist?
Because the media is biased and they don’t report it when we condemn. All the human rights activists working on Chhattisgarh instantly condemned the killing of the 25 jawans.
Do you see the Maoist crisis resolving, given the substantial reduction in Maoist controlled areas and wider spread of roads, schools and hospitals?
If you look at this area from where Panda belongs to, during the (Salwa)Judum, he worked to keep the Maoists and police out.You don’t arrest a local leader like Panda if you want to get roads and schools built. We can’t bring about normalcy sitting in Delhi, without the help of local leaders. Ultimately , there has to be peace talks where local leaders are involved.