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Cop finds way to camp after 32 hours in forest

Bankura, Jan. 27: When constable Ajay Pandey turned up at the gates of a police camp here at eight this morning and identified himself, the guards would not let him in.

He was clad only in a vest and underwear, his hair was dishevelled and face ashen.

Pandey had got separated from a patrol team when Maoists attacked them on Monday night. He found his way back to the camp 32 hours later, after shedding his uniform to hide his identity.

Only after senior officers intervened was Pandey allowed to enter the Shatnala-Majgeria camp and tell his story.

On Monday night, two contingents drawn from the India Reserve Battalion and the State Armed Police, to which Pandey belongs, had set out from their camps in Barikul.

About 150 armed Maoists attacked the two patrol teams, each comprising 30 personnel. An assistant sub-inspector was killed and at least three constables were injured.

Pandey got lost in the dense Bagdubi forest and strayed about 15km from his camp.

“The encounter, about 1-2km from the police camps, started around 8.30pm on Monday. It continued till around 1am. Initially, five policemen were missing. Of them, three injured were traced and IRB assistant sub-inspector Sanjay Ghosh was found dead a few kilometres away,” Bankura police chief Vishal Garg said today. Pandey was believed to have been taken hostage.

A senior officer who spoke to him today said that after floundering in the jungles for an hour, he had called up his colleagues from his mobile and asked for help. “But when the call was traced, the signal was sometimes coming from the Belpahari area in West Midnapore and sometimes from Kuilapal in Bankura. Although both are close by, it led to confusion and the policemen at the camp thought he was being used as a lure to trap more policemen,” the officer said. “So no one went to rescue him.”

Instead, Pandey was advised to take off his uniform and hide it along with his rifle. With no other alternative, he did that, and waited for daybreak. Then he started walking with the sun’s path as his compass.

According to the officer, who did not want to be named, residents of a village Pandey came across this morning saw his condition and chased him away. “Even the dogs had started barking and running after him,” the officer said.

The cop’s journey back to the camp lasted over 24 hours, during which time he had no food and water. On top of that was the cold. In the jungles, night temperature often drops below 9 degrees Celsius.

“At the camp, he was first provided with food and then a warm bath,” the officer said.

Then he took his officers to the place where he had hidden his gun. It was intact.

The police did not allow him to meet outsiders. In Cal-cutta, home secretary Ardhendu Sen said: “He is being interrogated. Raids are being conducted and seven-eight persons have been arrested from the village where the police teams were attacked.”

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