While several former chiefs of CRPF discouraged the use of Mine-Protected Vehicles (MPVs) for the forces, many have found it to be useful for operations.
In a recent communication sent to all field units, the CRPF Headquarters had in fact asked the personnel to use MPVs to rush reinforcements in crisis. The communication was sent on December 13, 2017 as part of a note on lessons from the March 2017 Bhejji encounter, which killed 12 CRPF personnel.
Among the 12 lessons listed, one dealt with crisis response: “Crisis response plan to be well rehearsed. Motorcycles and MPVs can be used for reinforcements.” It also asked troops to avoid following a pattern in movement and being predictable.
The nine CRPF men killed in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district on Tuesday, after Maoists blew up their MPV, were returning from leave and headed from Kistaram camp to Palody to join duty.
Barely four hours before the attack, CRPF men at Palody camp had engaged in a gunbattle with Maoists. And only an hour before, a road opening exercise had been carried out on the five kilometer stretch between Kistaram and Palody.
A senior CRPF officer said, “Only after full probe will make it clear what went wrong, and whether this attack could have been prevented. Forces do take care during such movements, especially after an encounter. Generally, (CRPF) personnel take public transport in civil dress while going on duty after leave but Kistaram and Palody are one of the remotest camps. There is no public transport.
“So CRPF has no option but use its vehicles for movement —- and if you can’t hide your identity…(or) a vehicle, MPV is the best option,”.
While MPVs have, over the years, provided relatively secure mobility, and helped swift movement of forces, they have failed to protect, too, on many occasions, largely due to massive amount of explosives – at times up to 80 kg —- Maoists use these days to prepare IEDs. These IEDs throw the vehicle several metres high in the air and more occupants die due to concussion than because of blast injuries.
In 2013, then CRPF director-general Pranay Sahay was so exasperated by frequent casualties in MPVs that he asked the force not use it at all. “I have issued orders to my formations in the Left Wing Extremism areas to shun the use of MPVs for patrol and other movements,” he had said in a media interview.
His successor Dilip Trivedi also discouraged use of MPVs and, ironically, ordered them to be used only on roads cleared of mines.
Trivedi’s successors such as Prakash Mishra and K Durga Prasad have found merit in the protective ability of armoured vehicles against ambushes.