At least 15 security personnel and one civilian were killed Wednesday when Maoists triggered a landmine in Gadchiroli district on the day Maharashtra marked its foundation day. The attack took place around 12 hours after Maoists torched 36 vehicles of a road construction contractor nearby.
The Indian Express has learnt that the target was a Quick Response Team (QRT) from the Kurkheda police station sent to investigate the torching of the vehicles at a construction site on the National Highway in the area.
The 36 vehicles were set ablaze shortly after midnight and in the morning, the QRT team set out from Kurkheda in a private goods carrier and the landmine went off ahead of Dadapur. DIG Ankush Shinde denied the policemen were headed to the spot where the vehicles were torched. “They were going to the Purada police station,” he said.
EXPLAINED | Why the attack in Gadchiroli is significant
Wednesday’s attack at Jambhukheda-Lendari village, which is 6 km from Kurkheda, the taluka headquarters, was the biggest after the March 2012 landmine blast in the district in which 15 CRPF personnel were killed. In 2009, 15 policemen were killed after Maoists surrounded and shot them down. Last year, 51 Maoists were killed in police operations in Gadchiroli district. Today’s incident is being seen as a counter-attack by the Maoists.
Security forces are not supposed to rush to the spot after such incidents as these have turned out to be Maoist traps on previous occasions. In 2009, 15 policemen were killed when they went to investigate the burning of vehicles at Markegaon in Dhanora tehsil. That was also the worst year for the police in Gadchiroli with 52 casualties.
Shinde said the spot where the vehicles had been set on fire and where the landmine was triggered, were 15-20 km apart. He estimated that the landmine contained 40 kg of explosives. Asked if the attack meant the Maoists had specific information on the police party travelling on that road in a private vehicle, Shinde said, “Maybe.”
While the landmine was possibly triggered by a single man deployed at the spot, Shinde said three Maoist militia formations were suspected to be behind the attack – the Kurkheda-Korchi-Khobramendha dalam, Tipagadh dalam, and Company 4.
Incidentally, on April 9, the day of the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections, Maoists triggered explosives at the Gatta polling centre, after which the police increased the patrolling in the entire region. Gadchiroli recorded the highest turnout in Maharashtra at 72 per cent.
Calling the attack a “big loss” for the force, Maharashtra DGP Subodh Kumar Jaiswal said that the blast in Gadchiroli was not a result of intelligence failure. “I cannot call this an intelligence failure… The Maharashtra police will take whatever action needed against such activities. It is a big loss for Maharashtra police,” he said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack and said that the perpetrators will not be spared. “I salute all the brave personnel. Their sacrifices will never be forgotten. My thoughts and solidarity are with the bereaved families. The perpetrators of such violence will not be spared,” he tweeted.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis also expressed grief over the loss of lives. “Anguished to know that our 16 police personnel from Gadchiroli C-60 force got martyred in a cowardly attack by Naxals today. My thoughts and prayers are with the martyrs’ families. I’m in touch with DGP and Gadchiroli SP. I strongly condemn this attack and we will fight this menace with even more and stronger efforts,” he said on Twitter.
The QRT personnel killed in attack: Sahudas Bajirao Madhavi, Pramod Mahadeo Bhoyar, Raju Narayan Gaikwad, Kishore Yashwant Bobate, Santosh Devidas Chavan (Hingoli district), Sarjerao Eknath Kharde (Buldhana), Dayanand Tamradhawj Sahare (Bhandara), Bhupesh Pandurang Valode (Bhandara), Arif Taoshib Sheikh (Beed), Yogaji Sitaram Halami (Kurkheda), Puranshah Pratapshah Dugga (Gadchiroli), Laxman Keshav Khopade (Kurkheda), Amrut Prabhudas Bhadade (Nagpur), Agraman Bakshi Rahate (Yavatmal), Nitin Tilakchand Ghodmare (Bhandara).
The driver of the private vehicle who died is Dadubhau Singhnath. — With Inputs from Vivek Deshpande