Saturday, August 23, 2008

Maharastra to use chopper in anti-Naxal operations

20 Aug 2008, 0530 hrs IST, SOMIT SEN,TNN

Mumbai: The state government had introduced a helicopter for anti-naxal operations with much fanfare this April. But the chopper, which was stationed at anti-naxal headquarters in Nagpur, was sent back to Mumbai for repairs and has not returned for over three months.

The state police now plan to hire private choppers on a two-day contract basis to tackle emergencies. When contacted , Pankaj Gupta, chief of anti-naxal force in Maharashtra , told TOI: "The helicopter had been sent back to Mumbai for technical reasons. We are planning to spend money on hiring choppers on a temporary basis.''Although it could be an expensive proposition (Gupta refused to divulge the costs involved), the anti-naxal force feels that there is an urgent need to have choppers in certain emergency situations.

While Gupta refused to elaborate on plans of the police to hire choppers, sources said the department would be writing a letter to Pawan Hans, the largest helicopter operator in the country, asking them to work out the costs of procuring a helicopter for two to three days. Officials at Pawan Hans could not be contacted.

Sources said private helicopters like the 5-seater Bell 407 could be hired for a cost of over Rs 5 lakh for two days.

State director general of police A N Roy said the helicopter helped the police in "psychological warfare" . "It gives us one-upmanship over naxals and had created panic among several dalams operating in the dense jungles of Gadchiroli and nearby districts .'' Roy said the basic purpose of introducing the helicopter was to give assurance to police commandos that "there was help at every beck and call" . "We want our men to feel safe in those remote parts of jungle where they are cut-off from the rest of the world. We want to be able to send our helicopter for even one policeman injured in a cross firing,'' Roy said. This has also boosted morale of commandos deployed in the anti-naxal force.

The state DG added that there were situations where police convoys were ambushed in the jungles."In such cases, the convoy can send us SOS signals and we will locate the nearest police platoon and airlift them (with the chopper) to the ambush site. This will help in providing reinforcements at the quickest possible time."
In the past, several policemen have been killed or injured in an ambush or in mine blasts.

somit.sen@timesgroup .com

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