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CoBRA officer was to come home for celebration of birthday, a late Diwali

While the 33-year-old died of injuries sustained in the IED blast, seven CoBRA personnel were injured and are now out of danger. The attack happened just 6 km from the Burkapal base camp of CoBRA.

Written by Gargi Verma , Srinath Rao | Mumbai, Raipur |
Updated: November 30, 2020 7:44:24 am
Nitin P Bhalerao, 33, died in a Maoist attack in Sukma

Family, friends and colleagues described Assistant Commandant Nitin P Bhalerao, killed in a Maoist attack in Sukma, Chhattisgarh, on Saturday night as someone who strove to be the best at whatever he did, and who led from the front. Ten years ago, he ranked first in basic training as a CRPF Sub-Inspector, and repeated the distinction in jungle warfare training after being inducted into the force’s elite CoBRA unit.

While the 33-year-old died of injuries sustained in the IED blast, seven CoBRA personnel were injured and are now out of danger. The attack happened just 6 km from the Burkapal base camp of CoBRA.

The CRPF said Bhalerao had fought on for seven hours despite losing a lot of blood.

Sukma attack| A timeline of Naxal violence in Chhattisgarh in last decade

The Assistant Commandant’s cremation on Sunday evening at Nashik drew friends and locals, apart from family members. Bhalerao is survived by his mother Bharti, wife Rashmi, daughter Vedangi (10), and two brothers. Bharti raised the children on her own after losing her husband when they were very young.

Bhalerao’s birthday was on December 21, and he was planning to return home around that time. The family had hoped to celebrate a delayed Diwali apart from his birthday with him. Sister-in-law Vrushali Bhalerao said the 33-year-old would come home every year for Diwali. “This year he delayed it because he wanted others in his battalion to go home for the festival,” she said. “… We are very proud of his sacrifice.”

A friend in Bhalerao’s hometown Nashik said, “He always wanted to be at the forefront. I wish he had stopped somewhere.”

The injured in Saturday’s attack all belong to the 206 CoBRA Battalion, including second-in-command rank officer Dinesh Kumar Singh. Bhalerao had been posted with the battalion in Chhattisgarh not too long back.

Bastar IG P Sundarraj said the incident occurred in Chintagufa area. “An anti-Maoist operation was being carried out by the CoBRA, STF and DRG (District Reserve Guard) troops from Chintalnar, Burkapal and Chintagufa base camps on Saturday. At around 8.30 pm, an IED blast occurred near the Arbaraj Metta hills,” he said.

Also Read| Staring down the barrel in Sukma

The site is hardly 8 km from Minpa where 17 DRG personnel lost their lives in a Maoist attack in March, the police said. The Chintagufa Police Station is 9 km away.

Eight of the seriously injured were evacuated in a helicopter to Raipur around midnight. However, Bhalerao could not be saved.

Having joined the CRPF in 2010, Bhalerao had served in Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir and Delhi earlier. In 2018, he appeared for the Limited Departmental Competitive Exam and cleared it to be promoted to the rank of Assistant Commandant. During a basic training course at the CRPF’s Internal Security Academy in Mount Abu, he was adjudged the best outdoor trainee. He followed that up with three-month training at the CoBRA School of Jungle Warfare and Tactics in Belgaum. Once again, he was adjudged the all-round best trainee.

CRPF spokesperson and Deputy Inspector General Moses Dhinakaran said Bhalerao was skilled in planning and executing operations against Maoists, as well as being an excellent motivator and man-manager in difficult surroundings. “He had exceptional leadership qualities. He was disciplined, brave and enthusiastic,” Dhinakaran said.

Bhalerao’s instructor during basic training, Assistant Commandant Vijay Chaudhary, said he stood out for his “tactical acumen and physical fitness”, and that out of the various wings of the CRPF, he had opted for CoBRA.

An undated video posted on Twitter had a junior officer praising Bhalerao and saying he wished every force would get an officer like him.

The ceremony to pay homage to Bhalerao in Raipur was attended by Chhattisgarh Home Minister Tamradhwaj Sahu and CRPF DG A P Maheshwari, who flew in from Delhi. Calling the attack an “act of cowardice”, Sahu said: “Our police and Central forces have been jointly carrying out operations for the last two years. It has resulted in the surrender of Naxals, their arrest and killing in large numbers. It seems Naxals are frustrated due to these things.” He added: “Our forces are being cautioned to move carefully. But sometimes, inadvertently, lapses happen that lead to such incidents.”

The DGP said the attack would motivate the force to “continue with our mission with more vigour, and synergy with the Chhattisgarh Police and other security forces”.

While the 33-year-old died of injuries sustained in the IED blast, seven CoBRA personnel were injured and are now out of danger. The attack happened just 6 km from the Burkapal base camp of CoBRA.

The CoBRA was raised by the CRPF in 2009 as a special guerrilla commando unit for anti-Naxal operations as well as for combating insurgents in the Northeast.

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