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Death omen in daughter's sigh

Bhimbandh (Munger), Jan. 6: 'Papa, don't go to the forest ' the place is not safe.'

The final words of four-year-old Susmita were prophetic.

When slain Munger superintendent of police K.C. Surendra Babu set out on joint patrol at 7 am yesterday, the last thing he had in mind was his daughter's sigh.

Babu and five policemen were killed in a landmine blast near Bhimbandh, a tourist resort 80 km from the district headquarters, where Susmita went for a picnic with her father barely a week ago.

The glade tucked away deep inside the forest of Kajra Hills is a Naxalite stronghold.

Babu's wife K. Lakshmi was at a loss for words. Tears failed her and her worn face seemed set in stone. The day before yesterday, she had joined the Munger subdivisional hospital as a government doctor. Today, she stood at the Jamalpur railway station waiting for a train that would take her husband's body to Patna from where it was to be flown to Hyderabad.

'I cannot imagine that the Bihar government is sending my husband's body by train,' Lakshmi said, as her daughter clung to her.

Resentment over the laid-back attitude of the Rabri Devi government was writ large on the faces of the family members of the slain policemen.

Earlier, the state government expressed its helplessness to airlift the body from Munger and decided to take it in a special coach attached to the Bhagalpur-Patna Intercity Express and then fly it to Hyderabad.

But the schedule was deferred because of an agitation by members of the local police association who demanded immediate compensation and jobs for the victims' kin.

Sources said the strategy for the raids in Bhimbandh forest was drawn up on the basis of information from a diary of an MCC activist recovered from Kajra Hills. It had addresses of some tribal villages and names of informers.

Babu, along with his Jamui district counterpart, raided several places like Paisraha, Sonba and Rajasarai inside the forest and seized two shotguns, used for killing birds. Sources said at 2.30 pm, after a futile search, the two officials came to the conclusion that someone had misguided them and decided to turn back. On their way back, the rebels ambushed them.

Observers claimed that it was part of a conspiracy by the outfit to lure the police to the inaccessible terrain, where the rebels organise training camps. Senior police officials, however, ruled out the theory.

On December 25, when the judiciary and the bureaucracy organised a family picnic, they were warned by villagers not to venture inside the forest. A blockade put up on the road through which the picnickers were supposed to return had to be removed by the village guards.

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