Twelve CRPF personnel were killed and 28 others were injured when Naxals triggered a landmine blast near Pushtola about 40 km from the district headquarters on Tuesday noon.
The incident happened exactly midway between the two police posts of Karwafa and Fulbodi Gatta when four vehicles two buses,a tempo and a Tata sumo carrying over 100 CRPF men were heading for Fulbodi Gatta as part of administrative movement in view of a scheduled visit of CRPF DG Vijay Kumar.
Sources said,The blast occurred as soon as Kumars chopper took off from Gadchiroli for Fulbodi Gatta. Kumar reached the spot within minutes of the incident. The vehicles were passing by an area with open fields on both sides when the second vehicle carrying 42 personnel was blasted by the Naxals. Since there was no firing following the blast,the injured could be rushed to Gadchiroli. It is clearly a single-man ambush.
The police have detained a few persons from the area for interrogation.
The deceased jawans,belonging to 191,192 and 30 battalions,were H I Katre,A Kanhaiyya Singh,Babulal Meena,Shivanand Yadav,Rakesh Kumar,Anil Upadhyaya,Vishnu Pande,Jitendra Kumar,Digvijay Singh,Vishwajeet Barik and P K Shibbu. While 11 died on the spot,P K Shibbu died in the hospital.
While the police said in a press note that the CRPF party was on a road-opening exercise,sources said,the road-opening party was behind the four vehicles which went ahead.
A CRPF personnel said,The party possibly presumed that it was an unlikely place for a blast since it was open on both sides. The mine detecting apparatus that hangs in the vanguard of the front vehicle was not in place.
This is the first major blast in Gadchiroli after 2009 when three ambushes by Naxals had killed 51 policemen. This is also the first major incident in the district involving the CRPF.
No police official was available for comment on whether the road-opening was done. Sampat Rajwanshi and Babar Manohar,two CRPF men who escaped with minor injuries,said that they became unconscious immediately after the blast and couldnt recollect what had happened. Asked if road-opening was done,they took a long pause before hesitantly saying,yes.
How did the Naxals know that the police party would move without road-opening and they could trigger a blast? This is a question many are asking. Maybe,they didnt know but waited there to capitalise on a possible chance, a senior official said.
Admitting that security personnel in Naxal-hit areas are routinely targeted when they are on the road,Maharashtra Home Minister R R Patil said on Tuesday that a suggestion regarding maintaining an equestrian force in these regions would be considered. Speaking in the Legislative Assembly Patil said,We will consider whether it will be a good idea to maintain a force that uses horses and can traverse hilly areas without using the roads. WITH ENS,MUMBAI