Does the left hand know what the right is doing? Not always.
In a stunning revelation, it is now emerging that neither the local police nor the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) – both tasked with countering the left-wing Maoist violence in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh – bothered checking the road for mines before allowing troops to ply on it leading to the carnage on March 13 where nine policemen were killed in an mine explosion.
Around noon on Tuesday, in the state’s Sukma district, men from 212 battalion of the CRPF were commuting from the Kistaram camp to the one at Palodi when their Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) was blasted by insurgents using an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).
Two more policemen who were in the same vehicle are currently being treated for the injuries they sustained.
While the CRPF maintained that the state police was tasked with clearing the road from all forms of threat on that ill-fated day, the state police said did not have the resources required for that task.
Sundarraj Patilingam, the Chhattisgarh Police Deputy Inspector General (DIG) who looks at the violence-hit region said, “On that day, the state police undertook an area domination exercise (this involves occupying the dominating features along a route to secure a large area) between Kistaram and Palodi. It was a decision taken based on resources available before the officials on ground. In hindsight, we believe a more intensive de-mining and ROP (Road Opening Party is specifically tasked with minutely scanning the road to terminate threats like the IEDs) could have resulted in detection of the IED. Therefore the incident could have been averted”.
He added, “But ideal conditions don’t always exist and senior officials have to visit camps”.
For years now, Maoist rebels have used IEDs planted underneath the road surface to target security personnel. A thorough ROP is thus the only way to counter the threat.
Vehicular movements are generally avoided unless personnel actually conduct an ROP exercise and give the green light.
Warning was ignored
Barely five hours before the mine blast, the Maoists fired upon personnel from the CRPF’s special unit, CoBRA (208th battalion) ahead of the Kistaram camp at about 7am.
“We’d hardly covered three kilometres on our way to Palodi, nearly 250 Maoist insurgents attacked us. We hit them back and they retreated,” said a policeman who was aware of the fight.
As a result of this, a pre-planned visit to the Kistaram and other camps by the Sukma Superintendent of Police and senior CRPF officer was cancelled.
Nevertheless, at around 9am, the SP, Abhishek Meena, landed in a helicopter at Kistaram, unaccompanied by the senior CRPF officer.
“Our 208 CoBRA had warned about the presence of large number of Maoists with sophisticated arms in the area. The Sukma Superintendent of Police (SP) went ahead with his pre-planned visit after assessing the situation. Our Commanding Officer sent the MPVs one of which got caught in the IED blast”, said the Director General of CRPF, RR Bhatnagar.
Asked if the SP Sukma should have paid heed to the caution advised by his force, Bhatnagar said, “There is no point in conducting these post mortems. We have to look ahead”.
When contacted, the Sukma SP Meena declined to comment.
ALSO READ – MY DEEP DIVE INTO MAOIST INSURGENCY AND WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2018: