It was close to 5:30pm in the remote Kalapahadi area in Jharkhand’s Palamu district – one among 18 affected districts of the state. The long-drawn, anti-Maoist operation had ended and the five teams involved in the operation were returning to their bases. One of them was of police personnel from the Hussainabad.
Going against the agreed-upon decision to walk back to their respective bases, the contingent called for a vehicle. After all they had gone searching for trouble and returned unharmed. All was going the way it was envisaged.
And then, a deafening roar stunned everyone.
Members of the outlawed Communist Party of India (Maoist) had managed to successfully detonate an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) under the chasis of a medium-sized truck carrying the policemen. Investigation has revealed it was a deadly concoction of gas cylinders, ammonium nitrate with splinters thrown in.
By the end of the day, seven members had lost their lives and six had sustained injuries.
This is pretty much how most attacks in the conflict-ridden central and eastern parts of the country end.
However, this isn’t how it was to be.
In 2009, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), had issued a guideline authorising every force fighting the Maoists to acquire a better mechanism to respond to the growing threat posed by IEDs – the Mine Protected Vehicles (MPVs). The ‘authorisation’ stated that for a General Duty (GD) battalion (about 1000 troops) of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) – the force nominated as the lead counter insurgency in the country – there will be seven MPVs allowed and for a specialist battalion of COBRA, as many as ten such vehicles would be allowed. This, in other words, implied that budget-wise the MHA would have little objection if forces would desire these vehicles.
The Jharkhand Police which has as many as 250 of its police stations ‘affected’ by Maoist menace has not more than 80 such vehicles. By this count, when required, men from more than three police stations will have to jostle to get one such vehicle! The CRPF which reports to the MHA has fared even worse. When it fields 22 battalions (approximately 23000 troops) in Jharkhand, it only has 30 MPVs to offer them. As against one MPV per approximately 100-250 troops allowed, today’s ratio is one MPV for more than 750 troops, if all the vehicles are up and available.
“It is very easy for our bosses who use choppers or vehicles on fully sanitised roads to say we should avoid vehicles. We get so tired after long drawn operations that at the first sight of a road, it is difficult to control your men who all express their desire to be driven,” said a jawan.
With specialised vehicles which offer a relatively better chance of survival for troops virtually absent, forces have no option but to rely on trucks, local vehicles like buses and jeeps and even ambulances, all of which the Maoists have successfully blasted killing most of those inside. On occasions when security forces have used these civilian vehicles, the insurgents have not shied away from blasting them as well notwithstanding collateral damage.
Indecision, multiple false-starts and indifference has contributed to this. In 2014, the then Director General of CRPF, Dilip Trivedi asked for a surrendering of all MPVs the force had. It was attributed to the lack of interest. However following an uproar, the force revised its stand.
Former Border Security Force (BSF) Director General Prakash Singh, “When long distances have to be covered, MPVs should be used. They can offer a better degree of protection. We need to see if the funds for MPVs were not allocated or not utilised or diverted. This should be looked into.”
Home Minister Rajnath Singh did not respond to the question asked on the matter.
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