Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sitting ducks in bomb den

JOY SENGUPTA

Special Task Force personnel with the recovered cylinder bomb that exploded on Saturday at Imamganj. Telegraph picture

Patna, Nov. 21: The death of seven students early this morning in Aurangabad and that of two cops in Imamganj yesterday exposed the lack of expertise of the police in defusing bombs.

Security forces posted in Naxalite-hit areas claim they are not equipped to handle the landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) they encounter in course of their daily patrol. The lack of equipment may have been the cause of the blast of the 5kg cylinder bomb that killed the home guard jawan and a bomb disposal squad member at Londa village, under Dumaria police station on Saturday, minutes before the polling came to a close.

A Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawan on guard at a polling booth in Imamganj constituency in Gaya said the landmines and IEDs were the most dangerous threats faced by the security forces in their campaign against the rebels.

The jawan said: “We can engage and defeat the Maoists in gun battles as we have better arms and fire power. But we can’t fight the landmines — they are difficult to find. Even if we spot them, defusing them is difficult.”

A Special Task Force jawan said detecting bombs was just a matter of chance. He said: “We try to look for wires on the road.”

That is what bomb disposal squad chief Anil Singh and home guard jawan Baleshwar Singh found out on Saturday. A source at Dumaria police station on Sunday recounted the incident that killed Anil and Baleshwar and injured seven others.

The source said: “The two of them tried to do all they could to defuse the bomb. First they tried to explode the bomb with extended wires and a battery. When that didn’t work, they tried using a car battery.”

When they found it was a cylinder bomb, they started digging for it.

The source said: “The bomb was then brought out and the wires cut. The security personnel, who had gathered around, thought the bomb had been defused. Photographers came close and started taking pictures. A camera flash caused the explosion.”

Dumaria police station officer-in-charge Ratan Lal Thakur told The Telegraph: “Five companies of Border Security Force are camping in the area. We have information of movement of Maoists in this area, close to the Jharkhand border.”

The source said Anil had asked his subordinate to get him wires but the two suitcases of equipment they had did not have any. Neither did it have any torch battery or larger batteries required to defuse bombs. Policemen arranged for the required equipment from nearby villages.

A senior police officer in the district said there was a serious lack of equipment as well as personnel. He said not all districts had bomb disposal squads and the local security forces had to wait for personnel to arrive from Patna when they detect a bomb.

He said: “This can be very frustrating as we have to wait for hours when even a minute’s delay can be catastrophic.”

Earlier, senior police officers maintained that the bomb disposal squads of Bihar Military Police had the required equipment to deal with the situation. Now even they accept the situation is serious.

A member of the bomb disposal squad based in Patna said: “I have been defusing country-made bombs for a long time. But I don’t have proper protective jackets or equipment. I have just been lucky.”

Director-general of police Neel Mani told The Telegraph: “It’s not that we don’t have equipment. But often the personnel of the bomb disposable squad do not wear protective jackets or equipment. We will look into this.” Mani said: “We have a meeting tomorrow. Senior officers will be there. A lot of changes will be introduced in it.”

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