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CRPF says police stalled its plan, may have averted Maoist ambush

Latest showdown marks a new low in the already strained relations between the CRPF and the Chhattisgarh Police.

Charred vehicles after Maoists attacked a joint search party of CRPF and police near Tongpal in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh on Tuesday. (PTI) Charred vehicles after Maoists attacked a joint search party of CRPF and police near Tongpal in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh on Tuesday. (PTI)

Citing “risky terrain”, Maoist threat and unprovoked firing by “new (CRPF) troops” that caused two major controversial killings of tribals that sullied the “public image” of forces, the state police allegedly shot down a “massive anti-Naxal operation” planned by the CRPF last month. The CRPF claims that if the operation had gone ahead as planned, it would have averted the March 11 Tongpal attack in which 15 security personnel were killed.
The CRPF’s IG, Chhattisgarh, H S Siddhu, the force’s senior-most officer in the state, has blamed the “senior police officers of the state at whose instructions the plan was to be shelved at the last moment”.

The latest showdown marks a new low in the already strained relations between the Central paramilitary forces and the Chhattisgarh Police. Siddhu claims that his forces had planned a 40-day operation involving 3,000 troops across the base zones of Maoists in Bastar. The state police was informed from the beginning about the plans, forces had already left their camps after proper induction training in February but the state’s top police officers asked them to cancel it at the last moment “for no reason”.

As per the rules, the CRPF cannot take up any operation on its own and needs prior approval of the state police. Personnel from the state police also accompany the CRPF troops in operations.

“The plan was to mobilise forces and undertake effective operations in all the base areas of Maoists before the beginning of their Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign in March. The CRPF saw it as a window of opportunity to destabilise the Maoists and damage their military capacity before the Lok Sabha elections,” Siddhu told The Indian Express.

“The entire operation would last around 35-40 days, covering entire Bijapur, Dantewada, Sukma, Abujhmaad areas. Most of these are no-go areas. We pulled out our best cops from our battalions across the state. The plan was to move these 3,000 troops in the batches of 150 from 20 spots, simultaneously. Hence, we mobilised our forces, trained them and equipped them with ration. They assembled at Jagdalpur. We were on way to Bijapur, the operation was to begin from Bijapur on February 9 and suddenly we learnt that we were denied the permission. We had to shelve it at the last moment at the instructions of senior police officers of Chhattisgarh,” he said. “We have no answer why they asked us to shelve it at the last moment,” he added.

After remaining static and waiting for the permission for two days, the CRPF finally withdrew its forces on February 11. Siddhu claimed that the “last leg of this operation was scheduled in Darbha and Tongpal zone around March 10. If it was allowed, the massive entry of forces would have sanitised the entire area and the recent incident would have been averted.”

The Indian Express has learnt that there was no official communication from Chhattisgarh’s senior police officers to shelve the plan, and the verbal instructions seem to have been based on a “confidential” letter by Bijapur S P Prashant Agarwal to senior officers including ADG (Naxal Ops) RK Vij, ADG (Int) Mukesh Gupta and Bastar IG AD Gautam.

When contacted, Agarwal refused to comment on the issue. “It’s a confidential matter. I don’t want to talk about this in media,” he said. ADG (Naxal Ops) RK Vij said: “It’s very unfortunate that CRPF officers are raising these confidential issues of national security through media. If they had any complaint, they should have raised with us.”

Agarwal’s four-page letter, dated February 8, cited a number of reasons to cancel the operation. Agarwal cautioned against military adventurism, saying that he did not have enough forces at the moment to lend for the operation and noted that the CRPF’s plan was “very risky” as “the area being addressed is one of the highly affected”.

Significantly, he pointed at the two major incidents involving the CRPF in his district in June 2012 and May 2013, in which 19 and 8 persons were killed in the CRPF firing. These incidents sullied the hard-earned public image of the forces, he noted, adding that the “new forces (of CRPF)” often open fire without provocation.

While the security forces had earlier claimed the victims of these two incidents to be Maoists, it soon emerged that they were tribals. Both these alleged encounters, now being probed by a retired High Court Judge, occurred when Agarwal was the SP.

Agarwal repeatedly stressed that odds are heavily against the CRPF operation as the risks far outweighed the benefits and cautioned against the operation. Chhattisgarh police sources also said that officers of other districts also showed similar apprehensions about the operation and noted that they did not have sufficient forces to send with the CRPF.

CRPF officers attribute it to the “problematic approach” of the state’s officers. “We were going with 3,000 troops and had been informing the state police from the very beginning. If they had any objection, they could have told us earlier,” Siddhu said.

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