THE contractors constructing the state highway between Purada and Godalwahi villages in Gadchiroli, whose vehicles were attacked by Naxals on April 30 at Dadapur village, allegedly ignored police’s advice to park their vehicles behind a police station to avoid such attacks, investigations have revealed.
The companies, Chhattisgarh-based Infratech Construction Private Limited and Amar Infrastructure Limited, which are constructing the road as a joint venture, were instructed to leave their vehicles parked on an open ground behind Purada police station after finishing the day’s work at Dadapur village, located 5 km away.
At Dadapur, the firms had set up a temporary plant to mix bitumen in an open ground. Their fleet, including mixers, earth-movers, cranes and trucks were also stationed there on April 30, when the vehicles of the construction crew were attacked by Naxals.
Work on the highway, which involves completely relaying all its surfaces, began in February, said the state Public Works Department (PWD). “Initially, the project manager and crew members were afraid of Naxal attacks. But as the days went by and work proceeded without interruption, their fear reduced. This may have lead them to become a little careless,” said a senior police officer.
Officers claimed that as a result of this “overconfidence”, the crew had taken to camping in Dadapur at night from April 27, instead of seeking the safety of the Purada police station.
“Late on April 30, a few trucks carrying bitumen arrived at the site. After unloading the material, it was too late to drive back, so the drivers decided to stay the night at Dadapur,” the officer said.
Later that night, armed Naxals entered the village, confiscated the crew’s cellphones, set fire to their vehicles and put up banners warning the state government and contractors from undertaking any development work in the area. The next morning, Kurkheda Sub-Divisional Police Officer Shailesh Kale arrived at Purada police station to take stock of the situation. He ordered 15 Quick Response Team personnel from Kurkheda to reach Purada to probe the attack.
Between 11.30 am and 12 pm, just minutes after the men had departed from Kurkheda police station in a private Tata Ace truck, an Improvised Explosive Device detonated on the Korchi-Purada road. The blast killed all the policemen and their civilian driver.
Following an inquiry into the incident, the state government has transferred Kale to Nandurbar as the deputy superintendent of police (Caste Verification Cell).
Narendra Rathi, Director of Infratech Constructions, said that vehicles bringing bitumen to the construction site from Mumbai usually did not make the long journey back the same day.
Rathi had also assumed Kurkheda to be safe when he had applied last year for the road construction job. “Nothing had happened in the area for so many years. Our crew had not faced any disruptions before this attack and gained in confidence as work was going on smoothly. They would park the vehicles near the police station after finishing the day’s work,” he said.
Rathi added that no call has yet been taken on resuming work and that he was in contact with the district administration and the PWD. The Purada-Godalwahi state highway is one of three highways in the district that the government is keen on constructing on a priority basis as it would provide connectivity to the local residents and facilitate easier movement of the police and Central Reserve Police Force into interior areas.