Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Red terror: Govt has failed to learn its lessons

Rajeev Deshpande & Vishwa Mohan, TNN 14 July 2009, 02:02am IST

NEW DELHI: The massacre of 30 cops in Chhattisgarh's Rajnandgaon district is a grim reminder that India is not winning the war against Naxalism.

State governments do not pay heed to adequately staffing vulnerable police stations while central forces are bound by operating procedures that are exploited byfleet-footed Naxals.

Despite repeated warnings and meetings to ensure sharing of best practises, Chhattisgarh remains lax in ensuring a strong presence of police personnel in vulnerable areas while ultras lay "multiple-ambushes" and use land mines while deploying heavily armed, highly mobile groups. In many areas, large swathes of land have become no-go zones and police parties live in fear of stations being attacked and arms looted.

Parallel governments have sprung up where as much as 50% of development funds simply pass into the hands of Red ultras. This has sometimes led to ludicrous situations where contractors move around freely and police contingents are holed up in their yards.

Chhattisgarh and other Naxal-affected states have refused to take a leaf from the Andhra Pradesh model of fortified and specially designed police stations. While AP has designed circular police stations with first and second tier observation decks, single-entry wicker gates and watchposts that offer multiple firing angles while protecting sentries with concrete covers, most outposts in other Naxal-affected areas are quite rudimentary.

The use of paramilitary in anti-Naxal operations has been hampered by its codes of engagement as often CRPF units do not move out below company strength and are always in uniform. They cannot move incognito and in small groups as may be needed in a stealth operation. Jungle combing in hostile terrain is difficult as secrecy demands that operations be launched in pre-dawn without setting off alerts.

Police forces are also increasingly vulnerable to "multiple ambushes" by Red ultras who use well-trained "mobile warfare" units as was the case in Maharashtra in February and May and once in Jharkhand in April. Since CRPF moves in visible numbers, they are often targetted by ambushes which have sometimes involved scores of ultras. Night time operations where a large force must mask its presence by getting off vehicles 5-6 km before target areas, ensure no tell tale lights and hope against accidental giveaways like animal calls is quite a task.

Home minister P Chidambaram, who has already called a meeting of Naxal-affected states in August to discuss new operational strategies to counter Maoists, is likely to explain the situation in Lok Sabha on Tuesday.

Officials expressed worry over lack of coordination among security forces, as also the apparent failure of copsto follow standard operating procedures (SOPs). A slightly different opinion has also been expressed by some officers who point out that in emergency situations, following some procedures like getting off the road and proceeding on foot mean that ultras are almost certain to get away.

Reports of Sunday incidents show that Maoists first attacked special task force unit at Madanwada fully knowing that reinforcements would soon arrive. Armed mobile cadres were at Khoregaon and Karkoli in advance besides landmines were laid on the roads leading to Madanwada.

"The cops did not only take the routinely used track for movement but also used vehicle, leading to the casualties," said the official. The SP, who died in the incident, returned to the police station but again rushed to the ambush sites -- leaving him vulnerable to an ultra ambush.

Maharashtra had witnessed similar attacks in Gadchiroli twice this year - first in February and secondly in May in which they lost 15 and 16 cops, including policewomen, respectively. Jharkhand too had such incident in Latehar in April when 10 BSF personnel lost their lives in a landmine which was laid as a part of ultras' multiple ambushes strategy.

Sources in the CRPF said that all such incidents had been carried out by the "mobile warfare" unit of Naxalites, comprising 200 well-trained cadres, backed by locals. Their strategy is to move from one state to another after the ground work done by the local cadres, they added.

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