Tuesday, June 23, 2009

SOPs not always practical, better to use common sense’

Debabrata Mohanty Posted online: Tuesday , Jun 23, 2009 at 0044 hrs

Bhubaneswar : Eight policemen of the Orissa Special Security Force and a driver from the Orissa State Armed Police died on the spot when the jeep they were travelling in was blown off by landmines planted on the road near Jogi Palur in Koraput’s Narayanpatna area last Thursday. They had not stuck to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) while venturing out on duty.

It was similar to the case in June last year when Maoists sunk a boat carrying 36 men of AP’s Greyhound force in Balimela reservoir of Malkangiri district.

Naxal expert Ajai Sahni of the Delhi-based Institute for Conflict Management said the Narayanpatna incident could have been avoided had the cops travelled on motorcycles or just walked, as advised in the SOPs. And the Andhra cops had made the mistake of travelling in a single boat, making them sitting ducks.

But top police officers in Orissa feel the SOPs can’t be practised always as one can’t travel long distances on motorcycles or by walking. Inspector General (Operations) Sudhansu Sarangi, who heads the anti-Naxal force in the state, said the belief that by following the SOPs one can achieve zero-casualty is misplaced. “There is no standard operating procedures that I know of. It’s a jungle warfare and you have to adapt to the terrain. It’s not like that you follow a SOP and make it zero casualty. What we do is try to understand the topography, not doing something that would entail more risk,” he said. “But despite that ambushes can happen.”

Deputy Inspector General of Police (South-Western Range) Sanjib Panda said there was no written procedure to be followed. “We try to follow the SOPs like not take the same route on which we travel. But it is not always possible. Sometimes, the Maoists lay landmines on the alternative route as well. One just has to use common sense and get lucky as much as possible,” he said.

Panda said last year the Orissa Police were cautious, but still the state suffered the maximum police casualty among the Naxal-hit states. “It’s all pure chance. By following the SOPs, you can only minimise the risk but you can’t eliminate it.”

Devdutt Singh, who was the SP of Maoist-affected Malkangiri in early 2000, said: “In Orissa, we have been very cautious compared to the police in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Like us, the Maoists also have their SOPs and they try to outsmart us. The SOPs keep on changing, depending on circumstances. We have to take the risk and defeat them.”

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