Bokaro, Dec. 2: Maoists today blew up a police minibus on a jungle culvert, killing 13 special task force personnel who had failed to carry out a mandatory landmine check.
A second minibus full of policemen, who from yards away watched their colleagues’ vehicle lifted 10 feet off the ground and ripped to fragments, sped to safety instead of combing the forests around the spot 62 km from here.
Senior officers were left embarrassed both by the carelessness and the cowardice. They said the slain policemen had ignored instructions to check every culvert, bridge or any other suspicious spot while travelling through Maoist strongholds.
The Maoists had used a battery-operated, remote-controlled device to carry out the blast near Kanjkiro, 24 km from Jhumra. Earlier in the year, the security forces had busted a rebel training camp in the area.
That success, added to more recent ones against the rebels, may have made the STF “complacent and overconfident”, officers suggested. In Ranchi, home secretary J.B. Tubid blamed the massacre on “human error”.
The policemen were returning after attaching the properties of Maoist sympathisers against whom arrest warrants are pending. It was around 2.35 pm when they approached the culvert, where the landmine had been planted, and climbed onto it straight away, sources said.
The rebels let the first minibus pass before setting off the blast. Of the 16 personnel in the second vehicle, the three survivors are battling for life.
Police officers said that as a rule, central paramilitary forces escorted police teams in the state but an exception had been made today. They conceded that the paramilitary jawans are more particular in following security instructions. The Central Reserve Police Force has a battalion stationed in the area.
Senior officers are worried about the incident’s impact on morale, which had been high in recent months. The carnage has also turned the spotlight on the lack of proper training, supervision and discipline in the state police.
The deputy inspector-general (coal belt), Anil Palta, put up a brave face on the tragedy to claim that the guerrillas were on the run in the region.
About 190 incidents of Maoist violence have killed 41 policemen and 69 ordinary citizens in the state this year. The toll on the guerrillas’ side has been 16, including three lynched by people.
Of the 41 slain policemen, most have died in landmine blasts.