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.