Friday, July 31, 2009

Police panic at red rage

Rajaram Satapathy, TNN 31 July 2009, 11:05pm IST

BHUBANESWAR: Just after Maoists killed two police personnel on Wednesday evening near the mining town of Daitary, their seniors immediately went
into "hiding".

The Keonjhar SP switched off his mobile and showed up only the next morning at Anandapur to be part of the customary guard of honour given to the deceased before the bodies were sent to their homes. But for the help of some passers-by and local villagers, who took them to the hospital, both the bodies would have been perhaps devoured by animals from the nearby forest on that night. In the morning a so-called combing operation began.

This was no isolated case to speak volumes of the degree of panic and helplessness that has gripped the Orissa police in the face of escalating Maoist violence which has since spread to more than half of the state's 30 districts. Police did the same thing a few months ago when extremists looted Nalco's explosive storehouse atop Panchapatmali hill. Senior cops, camping at Nalco's guest house at the time of attack, switched off all lights and hid on the rooftop.

Given the state of fear pervading in the high echelons of the state police to face the extremists, lower ranking officials have chosen to chalk out their own strategy to save their lives. Enquiries revealed almost all police stations in Maoist-infested pockets close down after sunset. At some places, cops take refuge either in nearby villages or at CRPF camps, if there is any.

"For all practical purposes, outposts in many areas had become defunct. Every moment brings the chilling fear of attack and death. It is not possible to remain there during day time, let alone night," said a senior police official.

Jareikela police station in Sundergarh district bordering Jhadkhand is all but closed. Similar is the fate of Chandiposh station in the district after last week's incident of kidnapping and killing of a police official by the extremists. "The area being contiguous to the extremist-dominated Saranda forest police are scared of going there," the official admitted.

Police in Jujomora, Naktideol, Meghapal and Kisinda areas of Sambalpur district shiver in equal degree and quickly leave the place before sundown. The less said the better about the condition of police stations in interior pockets of Koraput, Rayagada, Gajapati, Daringbadi and Bramhanigaon areas of Kandhamal and Malkangiri districts, considered to be Maoist capital of Orissa, where cops without CRPF or state armed police in tow barely dare to step out.

"We have fortified some police stations in sensitive areas. But they are too few to cope up with the burgeoning situation," the official pointed out. He however admitted that plans were afoot to "relocate" some of the police stations. "This is being done for strategic reasons as it is not possible to deploy armed guards at every place. As a precautionary measure we have since withdrawn all arms and ammunitions from those police stations identified as vulnerable to extremist attacks," he added.

DGP Manmohan Praharaj, however, denied that any police station or outpost had been closed out of Maoist fear. "We have advised our people particularly in interior areas to retreat in case they are not able to counter the extremists in case of an attack," the DGP said. He however said work had been going on in full swing for improving the infrastructure and imparting training to make our people professionally more competent.

But police officials are restless and angry. "It is a war like situation almost all over the state. Every day our people are dying. We have taken up the matter with the authorities several times, but they are unconcerned. A fear psychosis has gripped the administration and we are in the process are pushed to the killing fields," said Sunil Mohanty, secretary of Orissa Police Officers' Association. He said a general body meeting of the association had been convened on August 9 to discuss the situation. "We demand the government to either fight with the extremists or withdraw us," he added.

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