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UNEDITED AFFIDAVIT OF FORMER ADG (LAW & ORDER) ON CHERISHSTARFIELD THANGKHIEW

Shillong,Sept 22: Here is the unedited affidavit of former ADG (law and order) on Cherishstarfield case.

BEFORE THE HON’BLE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY

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HEADED BY

HON’BLE MR. JUSTICE (RETD) T. VAIPHEI

IN THE MATTER OF:

Inquiry Commission constituted under Section 3 of the Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952

IN THE MATTER OF:

Statement of facts pursuant to notice dated 10.09.2021 in accordance with Rule 5(2)(a) and Rule 5(3) of the Commission of Inquiry (Central) Rules, 1972.

STATEMENT BY WAY OF AFFIDAVIT

I, Smti. I. Nongrang, IPS, Additional Director General of Police (L&O/TAP), Meghalaya, do hereby solemnly affirm and state as under:

1. I say that I am the Additional Director General of Police (Law & Order), and I am acquainted with the facts and circumstances of the case, and I am competent and authorized to file the instant statement in the form of an affidavit.

2. I say that my statement is based on the information and records of the case, and I am acquainted with the same and I state the same on the basis of material on record.

3. I say that in my official capacity as Additional Director General of Police (L&O/TAP), I am aware of the facts and circumstances leading to the police action on 13th August 2021 based on the records of the investigation(s) conducted in connection with the Khliehriat IED explosion dated 14.07.2021, Laitumkhrah IED Explosion dated 10.08.2021 which revealed clinching evidence linking (L) C. Thangkhiew. I am also aware that another investigation in relation to extortion demands being made by HNLC also revealed credible information connecting (L) C. Thangkhiew to these extortion demand notes at the behest of HNLC. I am also aware of the credible intelligence inputs regarding possible IED explosions planned in Shillong, received prior to the police action on 13.08.2021 which necessitated immediate apprehension and arrest of (L) C. Thangkhiew against whom clinching evidence had been unearthed linking him to such IED explosions in recent past in Meghalaya.

4. That I say that the necessary details of these investigations are duly documented in the case records maintained as per law and the competent officers investigating these cases shall, by way of separate statements before the Hon’ble Commission, bring these details on record for the consideration of the Hon’ble Commission.

5. I say that I am personally aware of several instances of gruesome criminal actions of (L) C. Thangkhiew committed during his well-known association with the banned militant organization ‘HNLC’. I further say that the criminal history of (L) C. Thangkhiew is also documented in the records of the Police Department which reveal 82 cases registered against (L) C. Thangkhiew. The cases range from offences of extortion, murder, robbery, bombings, terrorist activities, attacks on police personnel etc. As an illustration of the heinous antecedents of (L) C. Thangkhiew, I refer to one of the cases concerning the brutal murder of one of the leaders of HNLC by (L) C. Thangkhiew for which he publicly claimed responsibility. I say that the said incident was one of the most gruesome crimes which shook public conscience at the time it was committed.

6. I say that it is well established both from the record and also on the basis of publicly available material that by all estimations, (L) C. Thangkhiew was a dreaded criminal. Under his General Secretaryship, the HNLC grew into one of the most feared militant organizations in the region and was declared a ‘banned organization’ under the UAPA.

7. I say that sometime in the year 2018, (L) C. Thangkhiew staged a purported ‘surrender/retirement’ from HNLC. The public statement made by him on 18.10.2018 (video footage of which is readily available online) shows him announcing his retirement with a view to mediate talks between the Government and the HNLC. Notably, he did not surrender his weapons nor disclosed details of his known associates in the militant organization.

8. I say that as per law, the cases against him remained pending and were neither withdrawn nor closed. Therefore as per law, he remains an accused in 82 cases.

9. I say that even after his ‘retirement’, the HNLC continued to terrorize the people of the State of Meghalaya which led the Central Government to reiterate its ban on the organization under UAPA, 1967 by way of notifications issued under Section 3 of the UAPA, 1967.

10. I say that even as per the record of the Government of Meghalaya (as submitted before the Hon’ble Tribunal Constituted under the UAPA, 1967), the HNLC continued its illegal acts and in-fact efforts were consistently made to revive itself.

11. I say that between 2020-2021, three notable IED explosions were carried out by the HNLC which are Sookilo market IED Explosion on 26.11.2020 in Sookilo (subject matter of Khliehriat PS Case No. 146(11) 20 u/s 3 (a)/4/5 of the Explosive Substances Act, 2001), Star Cement factory IED explosion on 12.12.2020 in Lumshnong village (subject matter of Lumshnong PS Case No. 130(12) 2020 u/s 324/307 IPC r/w Section 3-5 of Explosive Substances Act) and M/s Meghalaya Coke Factory failed IED explosion on 17.01.2021 in Bther (subject matter of Khliehriat PS Case No. 7(1) 2020 u/s 4(a) Explosive Substances Act, 2001).

12. I have referred to the above IED explosions for the reason that investigation in the Khliehriat P.S. Case No. 48(07)2021 U/s 120B/121A/307 IPC r/w Section 10/13 of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 and Section 3(a)(b) of Explosive Substance Act, 2001 has revealed the role of (L) C. Thangkhiew in each of the above blasts. I have detailed the evidence in this regard in the forgoing paragraphs of my affidavit on the basis of the record.

13. I say from the record that for the purposes of investigation into the Khliehriat Bomb Blast dated 14.07.2021, it was deemed necessary and expedient to constitute a Special Investigation Team (‘SIT’) for expeditious and thorough investigation into the case. Accordingly, by a notification dated 14.07.2021, it was done. The investigation revealed the following critical materials:

a. The HNLC assumed responsibility of each of the above IED explosions;

b. The ‘mastermind’/ ‘architect’ of these IED explosions was one person by the name of ‘Sanbor Pala’. It emerged that Sanbor Pala used to offer money to the accused persons for successfully making IEDs and exploding them at his instructions;

c. It was also revealed that ‘Sanbor Pala’ was communicating with the accused persons from a Bangladesh number being +8801850234869;

d. It was also revealed that in at-least three out of the four IED explosions, two accused persons namely, Mani Phawa & Emmanuel Suchen were same and acting on instructions of said Sanbor Pala.

14. I say that during the course of investigation of the Khliehriat P.S. Case two accused persons DameshwaSyrti&Dame Ymbom in their statements also admitted to their involvement in other IED explosions and that they had acted on the instructions of Sanbor Pala.

15. I say therefore, that Sanbor Pala of HNLC became a person of interest. Evidence showed his involvement in the above IED explosions. Evidence of another IED having been made also came up. It therefore became expedient to locate the IED before any other such explosion.

16. I say that the SIT mounted surveillance on one StopmeRyngkhlem whose name had also come up regarding his possible involvement in the Khliehriat IED explosion.

17. I say that surveillance of the said person gave credible input that one of the accused persons namely Meshanki Pakhem was instructed to meet an unknown person on 19.07.2021 to Shillong to receive something. Accordingly, close tabs were kept on the said Meshanki Pakhem.

18. I say that on 19.07.2021, when Meshanki Pakhem went to Shillong, surveillance revealed that he was proceeding to one ‘Mahari Bakery’ at Mahari, Motphran to collect either IED or money. There he received a package from one unknown person and upon his return journey, he was apprehended and arrested at Mawrynkneng and later handed over to Khliehriat PS.

19. I say that from Meshanki Pakhem, INR 60,000 was recovered. To follow-up on the lead and identify the person who had paid the money, the SIT seized CCTV footage from the Mahari Bakery. Upon examination of the CCTV footage, it was noticed that a person having identical physical profile to (L) C. Thangkhiew handed over a packet to Pakhen. The same was caught on CCTV footage.

20. I say that in order to corroborate the identity of the person who was on CCTV, the Call Detail Record (‘CDR’) of (L) C. Thangkhiew was also requisitioned and at the date and time when the money was received by Pakhem, (L) C. Thangkhiew was found to be at the very same location. In order to further firm up the lead, and since the person in the CCTV footage was wearing a mask, by way of abundant caution, the Internet Protocol Detail Record (IPDR) was also requisitioned which cemented the finding that it was indeed (L) C. Thangkhiew who had paid the money to Pakhen.

21. I say that all these facts emerged in Late July 2021. Therefore, in this manner, the suspicion of the investigating agency that (L) C. Thangkhiew was involved in the activities leading to the IED explosion was cemented.

22. I say that at that time, it was the view of the investigating team that (L) C. Thangkhiew was acting in aid of Sanbor Pala of HNLC and therefore, intensive surveillance of (L) C. Thangkhiew was commenced with the hope that leads to Sanbor Pala would emerge.

23. It is only later, around end of first week of August that evidence emerged which generated reason to believe that (L) C. Thangkhiew was none other than Sanbor Pala and that he had been acting to aid the militant activities of HNLC under the said alias since his ‘retirement.’

24. I say that between 20th- 30th July, when the investigation of the IED explosion was underway, there was a steep rise in the reported instances of extortion demand notes being received by MLA’s, prominent businessmen, government functionaries and members of the general public.

25. That 03 such instances reported to Shillong Police where FIR was registered assume significance in this regard:

a. PS EKH No. 193(07) 2021 U/s 384/506 IPC r/w Section. 10/13 of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act:MLA ofNongpoh, Shri Mayralborn Syiemlieh had lodged and FIR on 29.07.2021 at SP East Khasi Hills where he stated that he received an extortion note from the WhatsApp number +8801850234869 with the threat from HNLC.

b. Sadar P.S. Case No. 190(07)2021 U/s 384/506 IPC, r/w Section. 10/13 of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act; Similar FIR on complaint of Shri Khongsit Add. Commissioner of Taxes, Meghalaya (albeit from a different number claiming to be of HNLC) that received a Whatsapp demand note and calls from HNLC.

26. The third instance was that of a complaint of MDC (whose name is being withheld) who approached the police confidentially on 02.08.2021 with a similar allegation as detailed above regarding demand notes received by him on withheld.07.2021 from HNLC from the same phone number +8801850234869. From him the police team received an audio recording of the extortion call which was duly seized by the Khliehriat PS team.

27. I may add that several other such extortion cases pertaining to the same number +8801850234869 were also received between 26.07.2021 and 30.07.2021.

1 Rynjah PS Case No. 99 (08) 2021 u/s 384/511/506/34 IPC R/w Section 10 & 13 UAPA dated 23.08.2021 – Complaint by Shri Charles Pyngrope, MLA Nongthymmai Constituency regarding extortion note received on 27.07.2021 from +8801850234869.

2 Mawlai PS Case No. 48(08) 2021 U/s 384 IPC R/w 10/13 UAPA dated 24.08.2021- Complaint by Shri TeiborlangPathaw regarding extortion note received on 26.07.2021 from +8801850234869.

3 Rynjah PS Case No. 104(09)2021 U/s 384/511/506/34 IPC R/w Section 10 & 13 UAPA dated 06.09.2021 – Complaint by Shri Pyniaid Sing Syiem, Chairman KHADC regarding extortion note received on 26.07.2021 from +8801850234869.

28. I say that therefore, the same phone number being used by Sanbor Pala (+8801850234869) for communicating with and relaying instructions to persons accused in IED explosions was also coming up in extortion demands.

29. I say that the audio recording seized on 02.08.2021 was analyzed by the team from Khliehriat and also by the Officer investigating the extortion cases registered in Shillong.

30. I say that on or around 07.08.2021, the team of Khliehriat, having compared the audio sample with known operators of HNLC (since role of HNLC was undisputed in these extortion cases) and after comparing the same against a control sample of audio of (L) C. Thangkhiew, the similarity in the voice samples was unmistakable. The audio sample had already been sent for FSL; however, the reports thereof are still awaited.

31. I say that the team also informed me of their finding and even made me hear the audio sample and in my assessment also, the similarity between the voice of the extortionist and the voice of (L) C. Thangkhiew was stark. This therefore generated reason to believe that Sanbor Pala and (L) C. Thangkhiew were one and the same person.

32. I say that this finding, coupled with the fact that link of (L) C. Thangkhiew had already been established in the IED explosion at Khliehriat (by way of clinching evidence in form of CCTV, CDR, IPDR) revealed to the team that the modus operandi of (L) C. Thangkhiew was of extortion and utilizing the money received from the same for funding IED explosions which were then claimed by HNLC.

33. I say therefore, now the picture emerged putting (L) C. Thangkhiew front and center as the main financier and operative of HNLC. (L) C. Thangkhiew by using the narrative of a ‘retired’ HNLC operative to his advantage.

34. I say that in the period between 07.08.2021- 13.08.2021 there were several intelligence inputs received both from Central agencies and from Special branch regarding possible explosion in Shillong by similar IED. The jurisdictional police stations were alerted and were directed to step up surveillance of known sympathizers of HNLC and overground/surrendered members also.

35. That while the focus was on the densely populated areas of Police Bazaar, Bara Bazaar etc. and despite best efforts made to prevent any such occurrence, on 10.08.2021 an IED explosion was again carried out on 10.08.2021 in Laitumkhrah (claimed by HNLC) which further indicated serious threat of HNLC.

36. I say that specific and confirmed inputs were received on 10th August 11th August and 12th August warning of possibility of another IED explosion in Punjabi Lane, Secretariat, Bara Bazar etc. in Shillong which were specifically detailed in the input.

37. I say that around the same time i.e., on 11.08.2021, the HNLC had also called for a boycott of Independence Day celebration and had also issued public threats to the Media and the Hon’ble High Court.

38. I say that in this backdrop, on 12.08.2021, the DGP convened a meeting of Officers in Police HQ at around 08:00 PM. Apart from me, the meeting was attended by ADG (SB), IGP (L&O), SP Traffic, SP (EKH) and Dy. SP EKH.

39 In the meeting, the evidence collected against (L) C. Thangkhiew which has been briefly detailed by me above was discussed threadbare. There was no iota of doubt as to the active involvement of (L) C. Thangkhiew in the blast at Khliehriat. There was also consensus on the fact that credible information had also been unearthed disclosing the modus operandi of (L) C. Thangkhiew of acting under the alias of Sanbor Pala in extorting money and utilizing the same for carrying out IED explosions. The inputs regarding possible bomb threats were also discussed. It was also discussed that since the investigation in Khliehriat had revealed the possibility of another IED, it was possible that the same could be deployed in Shillong by (L) C. Thangkhiew as gathered from the inputs received.

40. I say that it became clear and a consensus was arrived at that the arrest of (L) C. Thangkhiew would be necessary, and that sufficient evidence had already been gathered linking him to militant activities. It was also clear that since there was a threat of IED explosion, the arrest had to be done expeditiously and without providing any opportunity to (L) C. Thangkhiew to abscond and/or destroy evidence necessary to establish his culpability in the Khliehriat IED explosion case and other offences committed by him.

41. I say that it was therefore necessary to arrest (L) C. Thangkhiew to prevent further commission of offences and it was so decided.

42. I relayed the instruction at around 8:30 PM to SP EJH to report to Shillong since the decision had been taken for carrying out the arrest of (L) C. Thangkhiew in connection with the Khliehriat case where SP EJH was heading the SIT.

43. Thereafter I, along with IGP (ER), IGP (L&O), SP Traffic, SP (EKH) and Dy. SP EKH convened at SP Office Shillong at around 9:00 PM. There we had a meeting to discuss the broad operational aspects of the raid to be conducted and awaiting the arrival of SP EJH. I instructed the team to proceed with due care and caution and thereafter by around 9:45 PM, I left SP Shillong Office.

44. I was informed of the details of operation and the events that transpired therein only next morning. Based on the information received and based on the record, I say that after I left, the officers conducted further briefing as to the tactical aspects of the raid and proceeded with the raid leading to the police action.

45. I say in the light of the above facts that the decision to go for (L) Cheristerfield Thangkhiew was fully justified as there was clinching and incontrovertible evidence of his active role in the Khliehriat IED explosion. There was also credible input of another IED explosion to be carried out which, if not prevented could have led to huge loss of life and damage to public property.

46. I also say that the decision to carry out the raid at the said time and not in daylight was also fully justified as in the days following the incident, violence and arson across the area was carried out by sympathizers of (L) Cheristerfield Thangkhiew. If such a raid was conducted during the day, there was every likelihood of compromising the raid and/or resistance from anti-social elements. If (L) Cheristerfield Thangkhiew was given any notice of the operation, it was certain that valuable evidence would be destroyed and compromise the investigation.

47. I say that even the police action dated 13.08.2021 and the events that transpired therein are duly explained in the facts and circumstances detailed above. I say that from the information given to me regarding the operation, every effort was made to prevent any such incident, but non-cooperation on part of (L) Cheristerfield Thangkhiew and the attempt to attack the member of the tactical party tasked with his arrest resulted in the events that followed which were purely actuated for self-defense. Even so, every effort was made only to injure (L) Cheristerfield Thangkhiew which is corroborated from the Postmortem itself.

48. I say that even from the house of (L) Cheristerfield Thangkhiew, valuable recoveries were made including mobile phones, laptop, pistol, knife and clothes with match the CCTV footage of (L) Cheristerfield Thangkhiew at Mahari Bakery which connects (L) Cheristerfield Thangkhiew with involvement in the IED explosion at Khliehriat.

49. All actions taken by the Police are in accordance with law and were so taken bonafidely.

DEPONENT

VERIFICATION

I, the deponent above named, do hereby verify that the contents of the above affidavit are true to my knowledge based on information derived from records maintained in the Department and the rest are my humble statement before the Hon’ble Commission. No part of the affidavit is false and nothing material has been concealed therefrom.

Deponent

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