CRPF OFFICERS admit that Maoists were able to target a battalion in Sukma Monday, leading to 25 deaths, because of the predictability of the route taken by the personnel to reach their destination — a road-construction site. With a kilometre of construction in such terrain taking 15-20 days, they say faster road work is the only solution.
However, a proposal to adopt a new technology that would cut the time taken to construct a 1-km road stretch to just around two days has been gathering dust with the Chhattisgarh government for at least three years, sources told The Indian Express.
Sources said the government has not even commissioned a pilot project to test the technology, after it was recommended in 2014 by the then CRPF DG Dilip Trivedi and pursued by his successors Prakash Mishra and K Durga Prasad.
The technology, provided by many companies, use state-of-the-art soil stabilisation techniques and a unique binding material, said sources. And, according to a CRPF officer, who has conducted many anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh, “It costs just 20 per cent more than the conventional technology being used now.”
When contacted by The Indian Express, Trivedi confirmed that the technology was under consideration during his tenure. “It was discussed with the Chhattisgarh government, which had expressed willingness to go ahead. But nothing happened. That the 56-km road, on which Monday’s ambush took place, is being constructed for the past five years says something,” he said.
Prasad, who recently retired as CRPF chief, leaving the post vacant, said, “There were a few technologies we had sampled, which employ soil stabilisation techniques using local material without having to bring things from outside. It is for engineers to see which is the best option. We can adopt one of these fast and quick.”
Prasad said faster construction of roads was “very important” as that could reduce the vulnerability of the force. He said that the last two Maoist attacks on CRPF men in Chhattisgarh, which has led to a total of 37 deaths, were due to delayed road construction that exposed the personnel providing security.
“This (road construction technology) will reduce the time of construction and in turn, reduce the number of trips troops have to make for road security. That will reduce the probability of being hit. The last two encounters, in which CRPF men lost lives, were because of this,” said Prasad.
CRPF sources confirmed that road construction in the Burkapal area of south Sukma, where Monday’s attack took place, was going on for the past several days.
“The jawans had to reach the construction site every day from their camp two kilometres away. The SOPs (Standard Operation Procedures), to change routes and timings every day, were followed. But how much can you change on the same stretch of two kilometres every day? The predictability of movement was unavoidable,” said a senior officer.
Asked about this issue, Prasad said, “If I am going to the same place every day, irrespective of the route I take, I am setting up a pattern knowingly or unknowingly. It doesn’t matter how I change my time and route, the point is I have to reach the site every day. If the enemy is smart, it will wait for me. The roads there are flanked by thick jungles, which are so dense that you wouldn’t know if someone is sitting 25 feet away. It’s practically not possible to sanitise the area every day.”
Such road-stabilisation technologies are widely used in developed countries. They involve a process that enables the binding of material available at the site, such as clay, sand and peat, which makes the supply or disposal of material unnecessary and reduces the layers to be laid.
Manoj Kumar Shukla, who heads the Flexible Pavement Division at Central Road Research Institute, told The Indian Express, “Soil stabilisation technique has proven to be useful in building roads in difficult terrains and is a faster method. It reduces layers and uses local material, which saves time. It is already being used in the country. Some roads in Uttarakhand, UP and Bihar have been built using this technology.”