The 2014 landmine blast in the forest between Pavimuranda and Murmuri villages in Chamorshi taluka of Gadchiroli district, in which seven policemen were killed, had prompted the Maharashtra Police to rework its strategy in identifying and handling of improvised explosive devices. Since then much has changed. Vehicle patrols have been stopped with patrolling on foot becoming a norm. And the figures are an indication of this change in the standard operating procedure.
Until March this year, 1,455 short-range patrols were carried out by the Gadchiroli police and its crack team of C-60 commandos. Last year, over 5,600 short-range foot patrols were carried out by the two forces. Long-range patrol was almost half — 574 until March this year and over 2,700 last year. In the last four years, over 150 personnel underwent training on handling of explosives imparted by NSG, Maharashtra Intelligence Academy (MIA) and CRPF’s Institute of Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Two bomb detection and disposal squad (BDDS) units have been set up at Gadchiroli and Pranhita and every police station has a smaller sub-division BDDS unit. “Vehicles are prone to IED attacks and therefore, we have minimised their use and asked our men to carry out foot patrolling… owing to this, there has been a spurt in short range patrols carried on foot. This helps in ensuring that the movements remain elusive. Also, major police movements is preceded by road opening exercise,” said a senior official.
Other than the change in SOP, last year, the Maharashtra Police had gone on a procurement spree and provided much-needed firepower to the Gadchiroli police and its C-60 commandos. Among those procured include over 2,500 urban barrel grenade launchers (UBGLs), over 100 night vision binoculars, over 50 rifle mounted thermal imagers as well as over 500 bullet resistant helmets and 2,300 bullet resistance jackets.
“In Sunday’s encounter, the UBGLs helped in ensuring that we had a mass kill. The grenades were lobbed using UBGL… The speciality of an UBGL is that once lobbed, it helps us to attack a wider area of around 30 to 50 m. This helps us save firearms. Our men have been given clear instructions not to indulge in burst fire but fire each round with discretion. This helps us to engage the other party longer,” said an official in the DGP office. While the Gadchiroli police has five drones, it is now in the process of procuring two to three unmmaned aerial vehicles (UAVs). “Drones are used only in open areas… a vast stretch in Gadchiroli is covered with thick canopy and drones cannot be used there, but they have been very beneficial,” said the official.
On the use of technology, police said that 58 posts in Gadchiroli are connected through video-conferencing. Each post has a video conferencing facility and all 58 are connected through video-conferencing. This help share information in real time,” said an official.
The other difference has been the installation of over 50 BSNL mobile towers near police posts and on an elevation, so that these could provide the best connectivity. “One of the constant demands from our men was the need to communicate with their family members. But now, we have installed over 50 BSNL mobile towers. This way, our men remain in touch with their family, providing them with the drive that keeps them going. Patrolling is grueling and a tiresome exercise…. now with cell towers at every post, the personnel can call home as soon as he reaches a post. This keeps them cheerful and connected,” said the official. In the last three years, there have been a steady rise in encounters.
While 46 encounters took place in 2017, there were 36 in 2016 and 30 in 2015. Until March this year, 19 encounters have already been held.
While last year, 19 Maosits were neutralised, in 2016, 11 were killed and in 2015, two were gunned down. Till March this year, 23 Maoists have been killed. In April, 39 have been killed in two encounters at Kasanasur jungle and Kapewancha area of Rajaram Khandla post — the highest ever by the Maharashtra Police.