Calcutta, Feb. 17: Bengals worst police massacre has ripped the veil off an ill-kept secret: few officials bother to go through intelligence reports.
The state intelligence branch had written thrice to the government informing top officials of a Maoist build-up in seven rebel-dominated areas of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia.
At least one report specifically mentioned the Shilda camp, the site of the massacre of 24 policemen on Monday, and said a build-up was taking place nearby.
The police bureaucracy usually drafts intelligence alerts in the manner of weather reports that never commit if it will rain or not, packed with enough ifs and buts to be on the right side regardless of the outcome.
But the intelligence branch report on January 13-14, 2010 — a full month before Maoists attacked the Shilda camp — was more specific than usual.
A team of about 25 armed CPI (Maoist) activists have reportedly camped at Dumri under Binpur police station… and is three km east of the Shilda (EFR) camp, said the report sent by the additional director-general of police, intelligence branch, Naparajit Mukherjee, to Bengal home secretary Ardhendu Sen and director-general of police Bhupinder Singh.
The report did mention seven other sectors and many more places, making it difficult for the government to follow all leads and take action.
That is, if at all someone had taken the trouble of reading the reports.
Home secretary Sen said at Writers Buildings that he was unaware of the report.
DGP Bhupinder Singh, the other addressee, said reports of Maoist build-up come in routinely, almost every day, betraying the degree of attention — or lack of it — such alerts draw.
In hindsight, had the Eastern Frontier Rifles camp been told that Maoists were converging in the vicinity, the slain policemen would have been on their guard rather than cooking dinner together and leaving their flanks thinly protected. It is increasingly becoming clear that a false sense of security had lulled the well-armed camp into ignoring basic security requirements.
Home secretary Sen made another startling disclosure: at 2pm on Monday, the day of the attack, the government got a report that Maoist mobilisation was taking place at Shilda. The guerrillas struck at 5pm.
The DGP was aware of this information. Even I had primary information, Sen said. But at that point, there was no specific information that an attack on the camp would take place.
Sen conceded that the primary information did not percolate to the ground after it reached the top brass. This delay in relaying the information to remote places has to be removed.
Analysts said the problem pointed to a larger malaise — incompetence up and down the ladder, the legacy of decades of favouritism and politicisation that determined who would fill which post.
A call from a mobile phone would have alerted the Shilda camp but in a system where everybody plays safe, such on-the-spot decisions are inconceivable. Irrespective of whether the camp was going to be attacked or not, the forces there should have been alerted and kept on stand-by for rapid response in case of an emergency. Such intelligence alerts should also be flashed occasionally to test the preparedness of forces, a security analyst said.
He added that many alerts could turn out to be false alarms. The trick is to have professionals at key places to develop and activate random models and drills so that at least some of the alerts would be picked up by the security antennae.
Sources said two more reports dated November 23, 2009, and February 13, 2010, had warned of attacks. The February 13 report said leaders of the Peoples Liberation Guerrilla Army (the Maoist guerrilla wing) under Bikash and Madan Mahato are planning to strike.
The report said the Maoists had identified soft targets in the police camps near the Bengal-Jharkhand-Orissa border, including Shilda. Within hours of sending this report, the Maoists abducted the block development officer of Dalbhumgarh in Jharkhands East Singbhum district, about 25km from Shilda.