Nearly five months after 17 Chhattisgarh Police personnel were killed in an ambush by Maoists in Sukma, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel has accused the Centre of “lack of coordination” during the incident and claimed that CRPF personnel were present “500 m from the spot” but did not engage because “they didn’t receive orders”.
Baghel told The Indian Express that he had raised the issue with the central government and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
“Both teams of CRPF and DRG (District Reserve Guard) had gone on the operation together. The CRPF personnel were 500m away from the encounter spot. They didn’t receive orders to march and they stayed put, without engaging. Eventually, our 17 men died in the incident. If they had got the (CRPF) support… the Naxal casualty would have been higher.”
According to police, at least five Maoists, from the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), were killed in the incident. “I have raised this issue in front of the government, even the Home Minister, that lack of coordination led to this incident and that is regretful,” said Baghel who heads the Congress government in the state.
When contacted, CRPF IG Prakash D, who took charge a few days after the attack, said: “There is no complaint of lack of coordination. In fact, we have a smooth experience with the Chhattisgarh government. The incident was before my tenure, so I can’t comment on it, but we have had no complaints. If the issue was raised, I am not aware of it,” he said.
G H P Raju, the former CRPF IG who completed his tenure with the force the day after the attack, declined to comment. However, a senior officer said that a high-level inquiry was instituted under the then Special DG Kuldiep Singh. Singh declined to comment.
Chhattisgarh DGP Durgesh Awasthi, too, declined to comment on the issue. Since Baghel took charge in December 2018, more than 45 security personnel have been killed in attacks by Maoists till July-end 2020. During this period, at least 43 Maoists were reported killed in state operations.
Baghel said the Covid outbreak has hampered operations against Maoists. “So many of our personnel are infected or in quarantine. The police had to work during the pandemic to maintain law and order. They even managed to man the state borders when the lockdown was open,” he said.
Referring to the March attack, Baghel claimed that more Maoists had died than officially declared earlier. Several funerals were held in the jungles of Bijapur, Dantewada and Sukma, he said.
On March 21, a joint team of the DRG, which is the state’s frontier anti-Maoist force, the Special Task Force, and elite CoBRA personnel, from Chintagufa, Burkapal and Timelwada, moved to Elmagunda following a tip-off.
According to police, the team didn’t find Maoists at the area but were ambushed on the way back. “There were two CRPF teams and both didn’t fire enough or intervene. When our injured personnel came back, we were told about this and we raised the issue at senior levels,” said a senior officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.
While 15 DRG personnel were injured, the bodies of 17 killed were retrieved a day later. All those killed belonged to Bastar and Sukma, and the encounter was seen as a severe setback for the DRG, which comprises mostly tribals and surrendered Maoists.
On May 26, the Maoists released a video purportedly of 14 weapons and a large quantity of ammunition allegedly seized from security personnel, and clips of the attack.
In 2017, following a similar attack in Sukma’s Burkapal, where 25 CRPF personnel were killed, The Indian Express had reported that the then CRPF DIG had raised a complaint of “lack of coordination” with the state government and referred to the “terribly slow pace of road construction”. The CRPF personnel were killed while trying to secure an under-construction road in south Sukma.
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