An ambush, heavy weapon fire and pinpointed information gave Maharashtra Police the edge in encounters over the last two days in Gadchiroli, in which 37 Maoists were killed and no police casualty was reported.
The bodies of 15 more rebels were recovered Tuesday from the Indravati river into which, police said, the Maoists jumped to escape.
While 31 Maoists were killed in a firefight Sunday in a police ambush in the Kasnasur region, six more were gunned down in another encounter in Aheri tehsil Monday night.
Among the 15 bodies recovered Tuesday and flown to Gadchiroli in a helicopter, eight were women.
The police ambush on Sunday was along a 2-km stretch of land where the river crosses into Chhattisgarh, which police said the Maoists had chosen to set up camp. But before they could settle in, security forces had swooped in with heavy weapons and lobbed several grenades, which sources said killed many Maoists in one stroke.
Superintendent of Police Abhinav Deshmukh said, “The police lobbed at least 12-13 grenades and fired about 2,000 rounds.”
Villagers from Boria, near the jungles of Kasnasur, where the encounter took place, said they heard gunshots for at least two hours on Sunday morning. According to the police, the encounter had started at around 8.45 am and ended by 11 am.
Sources also said a manhunt has been launched in Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh to locate cadre members, who police suspect were injured in the encounter on Sunday but managed to flee. The police are also checking with local doctors, hospitals and alleged sympathisers in areas close to the border between the states.
On Tuesday, Additional Director General of Police Kanakratnam, Deputy Inspector General of Police Ankush Shinde and Deshmukh visited the spot. Asked how the Maoists inflicted no injuries on police, Deshmukh said: “They were completely cornered by our men and had no place to flee. Some of them apparently jumped into the Indravati river and might have drowned possibly because they could not swim due to injuries. The river also has crocodiles, which may have attacked them. Others fell to our bullets.”
The encounter spot is a rocky island inside the river bed, around which the Indravati curves. The island is flanked on two sides by forests and there is a funnel-shaped opening through which the river flows.
The police ambush caught the Maoists in this funnel and in the open while the rocks and sand all around made running very difficult. “As such the Naxals had no chance to flee,” Shinde said.
Asked if Naxals fired at police, Shinde said. “They exhausted all their firepower. Our men had taken secure positions the previous night.”
On Tuesday, the police also recovered six weapons – an Insas rifle, one .303, one carbine, two 8 mm guns and one 12-bore gun from the river bed.
Deshmukh said police would continue to search the area. “May be (we will find more bodies). We will do the search. The bodies, if any, may have got stuck somewhere but will eventually come up,” he said.
Police Tuesday also identified five of the six Maoists killed the second encounter on Monday. One of them is Nandu. “He was recently elevated to DVC rank. That means he was the third DVC rank commander to die in two days, “ said Deshmukh.
According to the police, they had information that at least two dalams were gathering at Kasnasur village. “In a dalam, there are generally 20- 22 members. Our estimates show that around 40 Maoists were present at the spot. While we have been able to kill 31, a few have managed to flee. Operations are now on to locate them,” said a senior police officer.
According to sources in the Maharastra police, the two C-60 commando teams involved in Sunday’s operation were in the area since Friday night but were chasing “another lead”. It was only by Saturday afternoon that an informant gave “pinpointed information” on members of two to three dalams planning to camp in the Kasnasur jungles that the commando teams were diverted.
“The nearest post to Kasnasur was already engaged in chasing a lead, however after we got this precise information from a trustworthy informant, the teams were diverted,” said an official privy to the operational details. Sources said that though rewards against Maoists killed in the operation were announced by three states, the informant will be entitled to get the reward money from each state. The total from three states combined totals around Rs 1-1.5 crore.— With RASHMI RAJPUT in mumbai