Bokaro, Dec. 2: Maoists used a battery-operated remote control this afternoon to blow up a minibus carrying 16 jawans of the Special Task Force (STF) of Jharkhand police near Kanjkiro, 62 km from here and 24 km from Jhumra, where security forces had forced them to abandon their training camp earlier this year.
The powerful blast, according to eyewitnesses, lifted the bus to a height of 10feet in the air before it broke into pieces. While 13 of the jawans died on the spot, the condition of the remaining three are stated to be critical.
Senior police officers blamed carelessness on the part of the STF for the mishap. There are strict instructions, they said, that the personnel should check every culvert, bridge and suspicious terrain for landmines while moving in the extremist strongholds. But the STF contingent apparently dropped their guard and paid a heavy price for the lapse.
Police top brass was also embarrassed by the failure of the jawans, who were in the minibus that escaped, to comb the adjoining forest for the Maoists.
The contingent was travelling in two minibuses and was returning after attaching the property of wanted Naxalite sympathisers against whom warrants of arrest had been pending. The Maoists allowed the first bus to pass the culvert, where they had fixed the landmine, in order to induce a false sense of security among the men who followed 200m behind, in the second bus. When the second bus reached the culvert around 2.35 pm, they triggered the blast.
Police officers confided that today was one of those rare occasions when the police team was not being escorted by central paramilitary forces. The Central Reserve Police Force, a battalion of which is stationed in the area, they conceded, jawans are more particular in following the drill. The successful police action against Maoists in recent months might also have made the STF complacent and over-confident, they said.
Home secretary J.B. Tubid also said at Ranchi that the high casualty was due to “human errors”.
According to reports reaching here, the ill-fated minibus carried an ASI, S.N. Singh, posted at the Bokaro thermal police station besides the driver. The deceased were identified as Rakesh Choudhary, Asim Singh, Dilip Mahto, Ghasiram Mahto, Vasudeo Mahto, Shambhudeo Mahto, Sudo Mahto, Rajnish Kumar, Gopal, Inayat Ansari, Karamchand Mahto and S.N. Singh. The condition of the remaining three, namely Ranjit Mahto, Upendra Singh and Gopal Upadhyay, is said to be critical.
DIG (coal belt) Anil Palta conceded that the men had paid for carelessness with their lives but put up a brave face to claim that the extremists were on the run in the region. The police, promised Palta, would give a befitting reply to the extremists.