MY PIECE: Post Sukma ambush, CRPF’s two field officers get the boot; inquiry against top boss under a cloud


Report in MAIL TODAY newspaper on December 19
Report in MAIL TODAY newspaper on December 19

Recovering from a deadly blow dealt by the Maoists in the form of killing 14 of its men and looting their weapons, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has decided to move on. However, with a step forward it has also taken a step back which has raised many eyebrows not just among its rank and file but even outside.

Confirming reports about a poor fighting effort and a failure of command and control among its different battalions involved in December 1 ambush in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has ‘attached’ and relieved from command two of its leading officers who commanded two key units who participated in the ill-fated operations.

Even as it does so, it’s effort to conduct an impartial probe into the issue has come under a cloud. The reason behind this has to do with the Presiding Officer of the Court of Inquiry (CoI) launched into this episode.

Field officers get the boot

In an order dated December 11, the CRPF HQs “attached” the Commanding Officer (CO) 223 General Duty battalion from which all the men who perished belonged alongwith a Deputy Commandant who was the officer leading 206 CoBRA battalion, a specialised force. The order has sought the respective formations to relieve these officers on an immediate basis. “They will not be given any task and will remain attached with their zonal headquarters in Kolkata,” it was learnt. When asked Director General CRPF RC Tayal said, “While there was a failure of command and control in the case of 223 battalion and the Commanding Officer was not around, in the case of CoBRA battalion, we observed that they failed to act and could not prevent the looting of arms despite not being too far from the embattled troops of 223 battalion.” According to Tayal, these actions emanated from the initial findings. “Nobody is off the hook yet, including the Inspector General HS Sidhu who was leading the operations on the ground. I am personally looking into the case,” Tayal added.

However this move has not gone down well with the force.

Said an officer aware of the entire operation, “The CO of 223 battalion had been called by the IG for a meet when the Maoists began firing. He took time to reach the location as the meet was some distance away and had to make his way back while the firing was on.” CO 223 battalion who was leading 90 odd men from his battalion was unharmed while his Deputy Commandant and Assistant Commandant fell to the Maoist bullets with 12 other men. In the case of the CoBRA Deputy Commandant, his party with specialised weapons claimed they had participated and even rescued some of the injured.

Cloud over inquiry

The CoI looking into the episode is presided over by DIG Sanjay Kumar who is stationed at Raipur and is administratively under the IG in this case. “Can you expect the DIG to scrutinize his boss? The IG was personally leading the operations on ground so like others his actions also need to be scrutinized. With this move I am confident that no fault whatsoever of the IG will be found,” said a CRPF officer.

Retired Additional Director General of CRPF, DC Dey agreed, “Someone from outside should have been assigned this task”. Former Director General of Border Security Force (BSF) Prakash Singh said, “The force headquarters needs to step in. I understand that the IG was on the field and he may not have anything to hide but a senior officer who could have examined the IG’s role too should have been asked to investigate. Otherwise it won’t carry conviction.”

While the IG refused to comment, sources in Raipur said there was no problem at all in anyone inquiring. “The force headquarters asked the IG to appoint an inquiry and he did. If there is any apprehension then CRPF HQ should directly handle matters, there will not be any resistance”, said a source.

The operation was not planned as it should have been: RC Tayal, DG CRPF

Q. What is the takeaway from this ambush for the CRPF?
A. There is no meaning in conducting operations by announcing our presence and moving in broad day light in areas dominated by the Maoists. We have decided that we will carry out our movements by night now onwards. We have also decided to improve motivation levels among our men, incentivize postings in Maoist-affected areas and plan better. MHA is already in the loop on this.

Q. Is that then an admission that this operation was not planned properly?
A. I would say that it was not planned the way it should have been.

Q. This operation also saw minimal participation from the side of the police. Do you then believe that in the time to come the CRPF can/should take on operations in unfamiliar terrain without the local police’s participation?
A. Our role is that of being in aid to the civil police. My view is that there is no meaning in conducting operations unless the state leadership comes forward. It is flawed model if we believe CRPF can take the lead and do operations on its own

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