The security forces on the Maoist front had one of their most helpless moments on Sunday when nearly 300 heavily armed personnel of CRPF and Chhattisgarh STF waited with the bodies of their colleagues for hours in forests of southwest Sukma before the Maoists allowed them to take these back.
Seven STF personnel, including Platoon Commander Shankar Rao, were killed by the Maoists in an ambush near Pilmed village of Sukma around 9 am Saturday. The remaining members of the specially-trained STF team retreated, leaving the bodies of their commander and colleagues in the forest. The nearest police station Polampalli was just around 10 km, but the bodies remained in the forest under the Maoist watch as forces were dispatched only Sunday morning.
Nearly 300 personnel heavily armed with top weapons like X-95 rifle, 51 mm mortar and Carl Gustav Grenade Launcher reached the spot between 10-11 am on Sunday, but the Maoists denied them permission before they relented after a few hours. The soldiers could begin the return journey, deceased on their shoulders, only around 3 pm.
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“Permission hi nahi diya. Kai Ghanta bithaye rakha (They didn’t give permission. (They) made us sit for hours,” said Raju Nayak, who was the first to reach the spot with his tractor with a few journalists.
Before the personnel reached Pilmed, senior police officers had requested journalists to ensure that bodies are safely recovered. A few journalists arranged two tractors and reached Pilmed but the Maoists refused to hand over the bodies. “Their men didn’t allow us to take the bodies,” said Dornapal-based journalist Raja Rathore, among those who reached Pilmed.
A similar incident had taken place in April 2013, when the Andhra Pradesh Greyhounds could not collect the body of their commando killed in a Maoist ambush. A Bijapur-based journalist had then gone, following the request of the AP police, and brought the body in a tractor.
Today, as was the case in April 2013, the Maoists were not at the spot, but stationed at least a few km away. Still, they controlled the scene through local villagers.
Sitting amid bushes and trees, the personnel talked about the possible options if they were eventually denied the permission. The spot was around 60 km from district headquarters. Last night, several special contingent of CRPF had reached Polampalli station in ambulances following Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh directive.
When the rebels finally relented around 1.30 pm, the policemen began collecting the bodies scattered over 4 sq km, indicating the length and massiveness of the ambush.
An injured personnel confirmed that as they left Polampalli station around 2 am on Saturday, they were trapped by the Maoists through a false input.
“Around 1.40 am, the platoon commander came to us and asked us to move immediately. We walked for a few hours before we came across some villagers who suddenly began running away from us. We chased them, but they disappeared. We then decided to take some rest at a hillock, and suddenly firing began from all sides. We were trapped,” said a constable admitted in a Raipur hospital.
At Pilmed, some personnel first thought of calling a chopper for airlifting the bodies. However, aircraft landing could be risky. So they decided to carry the deceased on shoulders. The bodies were tightly wrapped in black polythene, some ankles with brown socks marked out. The Maoists had snatched shoes of the deceased.
They chopped branches, tied them into stretchers before beginning a long journey through forests and rivers. They were cautious, entire contingent was spread across several sq km, with those carrying the deceased in the middle. Suddenly someone placed the stretcher on ground, the other men looked startled. A cop holding the leash of a sniffer dog stood still.
“Counting kar li? Pure hain? (Have you counted? Are they all),” he shouted.
Someone nodded, and the convoy resumed.