Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bomb bungle kills 7 students

RAMASHANKAR MISHRA

Patna, Nov. 21: Seven students and a farmer were killed in Bihar when a Maoist bomb that police had failed to defuse yesterday and abandoned for the night in an open field went off while schoolchildren were passing by this morning.

The tragedy exposes numbing professional inadequacies in the security apparatus fighting the Maoists in the hinterland. The amateurish handling not only failed to avert deaths despite a bomb being found well in time but also snared victims who were not the original targets.

The toll is higher than that from any single incident during the month-long Bihar elections that passed off in relative peace and concluded yesterday.

The seven students killed in the 6.45am blast in Bihar’s Aurangabad district were aged between 12 and 18. They were walking to their tutorial classes past the bomb that looked like any ordinary cooking gas cylinder.

The farmer, the eighth victim, was heading for his fields in the village, Pachokhar, 180km south of Patna. The five injured — three are in serious condition — include four children.

The villagers demonstrated against the police today although officers claimed the bomb squad had yesterday alerted residents about the bomb they were leaving behind.

State police chief Neel Mani said the station house officers of Dev and Dhibra police stations, whose men were on poll duty at the site yesterday, had been suspended for dereliction of duty.

The police had detected the bomb, apparently planted by the Maoists to target security personnel during polling, but failed to defuse it despite their best efforts, Aurangabad superintendent of police Vivek Raj Singh said.

Ordinarily, they would have carried it to some safe place or dropped it in a pond, but a cylinder bomb weighs about 5kg and it would have been risky to try and move it, sources said.

Singh said the police warned some villagers about the bomb and left for the night, saying they would try to defuse it today.

The incident is the third in a fortnight to raise questions about the competence of bomb squads in Bihar. Last evening, the chief of a Bihar Military Police bomb squad and a home guard were killed while trying to defuse a Maoist landmine at Londa village in Gaya district.

On November 8, a pressure bomb had exploded while being defused at Banke Bazar, 30km from Londa, killing two military police jawans.

At Pachokhar today, villagers refused to let the bodies be moved till 3pm and relented only after the government announced a compensation of Rs 1 lakh for the family of each of the dead and the suspensions of the station house officers.

The state government has ordered an inquiry and sought a report from development commissioner K.C. Saha and home guard director-general U.S. Dutt by tomorrow.

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