When Maoists ‘trapped’ 250 cops on hilltop and ‘blocked’ 1,000 would-be rescuers

Jharkhand DGP denies team was encircled,encounter cops admit it

Written by Ashutosh Bhardwaj | Sibil,gumla | Published: April 11, 2013 2:59 am

Jharkhand Maoists “trapped” 250 policemen on top of a hill for over 24 hours last month,engaging them from below and preventing 1,000 other cops from reaching them until a team led by the DGP finally rescued them. The Maoists numbered an estimated 250 to 300.

Policemen involved in the March 13-14 encounter at hill number 974 between Sibil and Saksari villages of Chainpur block,Gumla,as well as Maoists The Indian Express spoke to,agreed that the police would have suffered heavy casualties — they lost one man — but for the fact that the Maoists had unwittingly forfeited what would have been a locational advantage. The Maoists had descended the hill shortly before the police arrived. DGP Rajeev Kumar,however,denied his troops had been encircled and said “our boys fought bravely”,without casualties,until the rebels had to withdraw.

The Maoists,who described it as an achievement that has raised their confidence,have carried out a series of attacks since. At Chainpur’s crowded Thursday market on April 4,they surrounded a police vehicle and opened fire,killing five cops. On April 6,they triggered an explosion that damaged the block headquarters.

The hilltop encounter began after police had received information that Maoist leader Arvindji,alleged mastermind of January’s Latehar attack,was camping in the Sibil forests. The 250 state police,Jaguar and CoBRA personnel reached the hilltop at 11 am on March 13. The Maoists began firing from below,killing a Jaguar,Manoj Bakhla,and injuring two others. The police admit they could not come down.

“The Naxals were firing regularly. They had also laid pressure bombs and landmines along the way,” said Pankaj Singh,Chainpur thana-in-charge,who served with the Jharkhand Jaguars for four years. “Two other teams tried to come to our aid,but the Naxals fired at them and didn’t let them come near us.”

“The cops were saved by sheer chance,” said one of the Maoists whom this reporter met in the forest,but who did not want to be named. “We had climbed downhill only that morning. Had we trapped the police at the bottom,they would all have been killed.”

Singh agrees,“It did seem that the Naxals had left the position not much earlier. Had they been on top (and police at bottom),there would have been massive casualties.” At Tadmetla in April 2010,Maoists firing from a hilltop had killed 76 cops in three hours,the highest ever casualty count for the armed forces.

As the March 13-14 encounter raged,villagers alarmed by the gunshots took shelter in a school. Local news channels ran reports such as,“Maoists hold cops hostage for over 24 hours. As police try to come to their ad,Maoists fire and force them to withdraw.”

One March 14,the DGP’s helicopter landed on hill number 999,a short distance from 974. By then,the other 1,000 personnel had intensified their counterattack and the Maoists gradually left,allowing the team on 974 to unite with the rest.

Then Gumla SP Jatin Narwal (since transferred) conceded police had been trapped for 24 hours,while DGP Kumar said,“The 974 team was supposed to stay there. We were never surrounded by anyone. As the operation intensified,the ADG and I landed at the spot,secured the area and evacuated the injured jawans. The Maoists had to withdraw. It was a very well fought battle,” he said.

The DGP estimated the Maoists must have suffered at least 13 casualties — no bodies were recovered — while Maoists admitted having lost one man. “Over 1000 troops were deployed to rescue the policemen trapped by the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army. They threw in the entire police department for this operation… controlled by DGP Rajiv Kumar himself,” said Gopal,spokesperson for the CPI(Maoist)’s Bihar-Jharkhand-North Chhattisgarh special area committee.

“Yet PLGA encircled a major section of the police for over 30 hours and destroyed their coordination and supplies,” Gopal said. “This battle has raised the confidence of the PLGA.”

In the market attack that followed on April 4,a group of Maoists came from several directions,surrounded a police vehicle on patrol and sprayed bullets from the front,killing four cops on the spot while a fifth died later. Chainpur thana was less than 500 m away.

“It was around noon,” said an eyewitness. “Suddenly a few men appeared,blocked the vehicle,hurled abuse and fired. They brandished their guns,opened fire again and left with the guns and ammunition of the dead cops.”

“The last time police suffered major casualties in Chainpur was in 2001 when Maoists triggered a blast in Kurumgarh. But that was a landmine,” said sub-inspector Taranand Singh,veteran of several Naxal battles. “Here they came,stopped the vehicle,killed and ran away.” Maoists have termed it revenge for last month’s killing of 10 of their men by a splinter group,allegedly helped by police.

DGP Kumar rushed to Chainpur to boost his men’s morale. How far that has flagged was evident during a Bihar-Jharkhand bandh called by Maoists on April 6-7. At 1 pm,Chainpur thana too was locked — with a pair of handcuffs.

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