Sarpanch Mohan Singh Meena of Khejda village said he got a call from the police in the morning, warning him about a bunch of prisoners who had broken out from the Bhopal Central Jail and were now on the loose in the vicinity of his village. He got on the phone and asked friends from nearby villages if they had spotted strangers in their area. He then got on a friend's car and went on a recce of his village.
And soon enough, as he neared a river in his village, Meena came across a man emerging from the water.
"At first I thought it's police in plainclothes looking for the absconding prisoners. Then more and more came out of the water, one by one. I asked one person who was with me to run back to the village and gather a crowd while I tried to stop the men. They were speaking in a language I did not understand. I repeatedly asked them to stop. They had lathis in their hand," Meena told ANI. The village sarpanch also called the cops.
The police arrived after 15-20 minutes and asked the men to surrender.
"They (police) shot in the air. But these men weren't afraid of the police, they weren't afraid to kill or die," he said.
Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Bhupendra Singh has ruled out a probe into the encounter. "When an encounter happens, police has no other option but to fire," Singh was quoted as saying in DNA.
Here's a video of Meena talking about what he saw on the morning of the alleged encounter.
A day after the death of the eight escaped undertrials who slit the throat of a prison guard and scaled a prison wall to escape, a controversial video has surfaced that purportedly shows cops firing at a person lying on rocky ground in the middle of an open field, as bystanders egg them on to shoot again.
Police have dismissed criticism over the encounter, saying there was heavy exchange of fire in which they were felled after which four country-made guns and some sharp-edged weapons were recovered from them.
The police version clashes with that of the sarpanch, who said the undertrials had sticks in their hands.
"There was heavy firing from the other side (activists) and they were killed in retaliatory fire. Three policemen received injuries from sharp weapons. Police opened 45-46 rounds of fire," IG Yogesh Chaudhary told a media briefing after questions were raised over the genuineness of the encounter.
Congress leader Digvijay Singh alleged that Madhya Pradesh Police killed the SIMI activists in an encounter as it feared they would make some revelations. The Congress General Secretary also pitched for a court-monitored NIA probe into the incident.
Opposition Congress latched on a statement made by the Inspector General about possession of weapons by the SIMI members and sought clarification.
Choudhary said the fleeing SIMI activists had weapons in possession and opened fire when confronted and the police fired in retaliation. "How they got weapons and why they remained near Bhopal for 8-9 hours (after the jail break) is a matter which raises questions," Madhya Pradesh Congress President Arun Yadav said in a statement.
"As per the jail manual, not more than eight hardened criminals should be kept in a single prison. But here as many as 35 of them were lodged together," Yadav said.
Their disappearance from the prison and subsequent appearance in forests with pistols and knife raise many questions. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that truth in the matter comes out, Saroj said.
Chaudhary repeatedly maintained that all questions raised over the encounter were a matter of investigation as the series of events over seven hours between their escape and killing were still being probed.
The slain activists, Chaudhary said, were dangerous criminals who were involved in the killing of two constables in Khandwa and elsewhere in 2008 and 2011. Besides, three of them were involved in an earlier jailbreak in Khandwa in 2013. He said the Bhopal police, Special Task Force and CTG were jointly involved in the operation.
(With PTI inputs)