Monday, April 12, 2010

Anti-landmine vehicles driving force for police in Chhattisgarh

http://www.indianexpress.com/story-print/605522/

Amitabh Sinha Posted online: Tuesday , Apr 13, 2010 at 0231 hrs

Dantewada (Chhattisgarh) : Along with a large number of uniformed men and weapons like the AK-47, the fight against the Naxalites has introduced another familiar sight in Chhattisgarh — the anti-landmine vehicle. The closest thing to a battle tank that people in this state have seen, the anti-landmine vehicle is the best hope of the security personnel against Naxal groups’ propensity to blow up police vehicles by planting explosives below the road.

The fully bulletproof vehicle made of three to four inches thick sheet of an iron alloy can withstand the impact of most landmine explosions. It remains intact even if it is thrown up a few feet in the air by an explosion. The anti-landmine vehicle has become central to the police’s fight against the Maoists. Almost every police station in this area, as also companies of the Central forces, has at least two such vehicles.

As the entire vehicle is bullet-proof, it’s a life-saver in cases of ambush. Ask Mukesh Gupta, IG of Durg range, who had a narrow escape in an encounter with rebels last year. Gupta, along with several of his policemen, had been caught in an ambush near Madanwada in Rajnandgaon district in July last year. More than 30 policemen, including the local SP, had died in that incident. Gupta had given up hope before he spotted an anti-landmine vehicle that had been brought by the police party. Amid firing, he, along with some of his men, could crawl towards the vehicle and get inside.

“Most of my men had died and I was running out of ammunition. It was only a matter of time before they would have got me. It was only luck that I spotted the vehicle and was able to reach it,” he said.

This vehicle has now become almost an integral part of all operations against Naxalites. Manufactured by the Central ordnance factory in Jabalpur, these vehicles are air-conditioned and cost upwards of Rs 75 lakh each. The base of the vehicle is at least three feet above the ground. Twelve people can sit inside the vehicle, six along each of the two sides, along with the driver. The vehicle has only one door, at the back, but multiple openings in the roof to enable the soldiers to fire at the enemy. There is a small opening behind each of the seats as well, through which rifles can aim out.

There are strong seat belts on every seat which each passenger has to compulsorily wear because in case of a landmine blast, the vehicle is thrown several feet up in the air because of which there is danger of people getting severe head injuries. In fact, most of the deaths in landmine blasts till now have been because of fatal head injuries rather than by the blast itself.

The bad news is that the Naxalites have figured out the way to damage these vehicles as well. Each of these vehicles can withstand blasts caused by 25-30 kg of explosive material. Naxalites have now started putting in much more explosives inside the roads, as was in the case of last week’s attack in Dantewada in which 76 security personnel was killed. Reports suggested the rebels had used more than 80 kg of explosives to blast the anti-landmine vehicle whose sole occupant at that time, the driver, was killed.

“There’s a limit to what these vehicles can sustain. If 100 kg of explosives is put in the landmine, even these vehicles would be destroyed. It’s not often that Naxals have such big amounts of explosives, but if it does become routine then its use will have to be severely restricted,” says Hemprakash Naik, the head of the police station at Madanpur block in Rajnandgaon.

CRPF 62 Battalion to be replaced

LUCKNOW: The 62nd battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which lost 76 men in the Naxal attack in Dantewada last week, is set to be replaced by another battalion for anti-Naxal operations in the area. The CRPF headquarters are in the process of identifying a battalion which will take its place. However, the CRPF Central Sector Headquarters in Lucknow, under which the 62nd battalion comes, seems to be unaware of the decision. Sector IG BK Sharma said, “We look after the administration related matters of the battalions, including the 62nd. The decision to move battalions is taken at the CRPF headquarters.” ENS

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