Driving along a winding ghat, in the barren terrain close to Relegada in Odisha’s Koraput district – an area with hardly any history of Maoist attacks – perhaps the 18 men from the 161 battalion of the Border Security Force (BSF) thought they had put their fight against the insurgents behind them. And that is when tragedy struck at 9:30am yesterday. Initiated by the explosion of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), underneath the chasis of a five ton truck, third in a convoy of three, rebels then surrounded the convoy and fired indiscriminately resulting in the death of four BSF men and injuries to two. However, it would be incorrect to interpret this as a victory for the Maoists as the outnumbered BSF team put up a fight effectively frustrating the rebels by denying any further ground, especially their arms and ammunition.
The attack and counter-attack
At a steep curve, which two seven ton trucks had grudgingly negotiated, the final one was struck by a land mine. A group of 40 armed rebels followed up with incessant firing from the pre-mediated positions they had taken up. It was however, an alert response from the remaining fourteen men alive that denied them anything further than that.
Emerging out of the initial vehicles, BSF men, lead by their inspector who subsequently sustained injuries, planned and executed a defensive approach. The team spread out, took positions and pushed by the rebels who would have inevitably attempted to loot the wares. For over 90 minutes, firing from both sides took place. The Maoists ultimately were forced to retreat when teams of Odisha Police’s Special Operations Group (SOG) as well as Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) COBRA arrived to complement their aides from the BSF. Another factor which helped the embattled BSF men was that in the vicinity of this location, in Sunabeda, the Superintendent of Police (SP) was travelling with his posse of men when the attack took place. “It helped as the reinforcements, led by the SP himself, reached there before 11am,” said a source.
While the injured were then rushed to Vishakapatnam, bodies were subsequently taken to Koraput district headquarters where today the formalities would be completed and a wreath laying ceremony held, attended by senior officials from the state as well as central Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
Having executed an attack in a ‘new’ location, the rebels have yet again displayed their versatility. However, local police sources said it did not mean much. “Unlike most of the typical ‘affected’ areas, the place where the attack took place is neither densely forested nor has the kind of poverty and backwardness which the Maoists exploit. If anything, with abundance of cash crops like broccoli, ginger and the like, the farmers are prosperous and are dead against Maoists,” he said. He further added that intelligence reports, just a day prior had indicated ‘routine presence’ of a 17 member squad but, “That is not alarming. The rebels use this region as a corridor to move to Narayanpatna – a severely infested region of Koraput – from Malkangiri or Chattisgarh. But they never attempt anything here as neither the people nor the terrain supports them.”
It was also revealed that there was no Road Opening Party (ROP) launched to sanitise this section of the road where the IED was laid. “Yes, there is no ROP beyond Koraput especially in area under the Pattangi Police Station (PS) as it has never been required,” said an officer. He also added, “We are investigating how the BSF men were not able to spot these rebels in an area where the visibility is good because there is hardly any vegetation.”
On their way out
The BSF battalion in question had completed its tenure in Koraput and was being de-inducted from its tactical headquarters in Orkel in Malkangiri district of Odisha to its rear headquarters in Gandhinagar, Gujarat. Their movement, which local sources said was perhaps being seen, began on August 26 from Orkel. Having reached Koraput that night, the men rested and resumed their journey to Vishakapatnam at 6:40am yesterday.
Names of the deceased
· Jaswant Singh from Punjab
· Surendra Singh from Himachal Pradesh
· Gurinder Prasad from Uttar Pradesh
· Gurudayal Singh from Madhya Pradesh