At least 24 policemen,including constables,inspectors and homeguards,were present at the Sankrail police station when the Maoists struck at 1.30 pm yesterday. Not one shot was fired in retaliation. While a probe is on into what prevented the police force from engaging the Maoists,a preliminary investigation has revealed how unprepared the police force is and the abysmal state of their working and living conditions. Consider the following:
* There were 13 constables,5 home guards,3 national volunteer force members and 3 sub-inspectors at the police station when the Maoists struck. Not one policeman was armed. For,the practice here is to keep the weapons locked in trunks.
Even Officer-in-Charge (OC) Atindranath Dutta,who was abducted,was at his home unarmed. The police station had six .303 rifles,three revolvers,one 9-mm pistol and 180 rounds of ammunition all locked up in the malkhana (storeroom).
* Why? Policemen say one reason is the weapons are no match to those used by the Naxals so keeping them locked up is safer. Until the last Lok Sabha elections in May when they got rifles,the constables here had only lathis.
Said 55-year-old constable Gouranga Mondol: Two months ago,we told the OC that please take away our rifles. These can do nothing compared to the sophisticated semi-automatic arms and ammunition of the Maoists. In fact,thats why carrying such guns was a highly risky proposition. The Naxals would have attacked and looted us. Therefore,we all felt safer with the guns locked away.
* Result: when the Maoists struck,the police station was a sitting duck. The attackers raided the malkhana and took away all the 10 guns and the ammunition.
Moreover,it was lunchtime,the constables were either eating or taking a nap. As we heard gunshots,we fled into the forest behind the station. Those who could not flee were killed. They took away our police uniform,our cellphones and cash, said Anil Orang,another constable.
* The barracks,adjacent to the police station,is home to 13 constables and a driver. The ceiling in the barracks has chunks falling off. Theres no door and its open from both sides. The windows are broken. For 14 men,there is one toilet and the kitchen is in the open.
* Three years ago,the state PWD acquired 2.5 bighas across from the present police station. A sum of Rs 5 lakh was sanctioned to erect a new police station. The project is abandoned with only two rooms built which are now used by the OC as his residence.
* Ironically,the Jhargram police station,barely 35 km from Sankrail,is considered prone to Maoist violence and has bunkers,members of State Armed Police with Insas rifles guarding it 24 hours. But the Sankrail station has no boundary wall and is situated in an open field,with a forest behind it.
The dilapidated building that houses the police station and the adjacent barracks are rented from a local businessmen. The police station has no door,no bunker to thwart an attack.
Asked about the state of preparedness,state DGP Bhupinder Singh said: The area has no history of violence of left-wing Extremists. The police station was not designated as affected by Maoist violence and,therefore,the security was not so tight. We are doing what ever we can to improve the situation.