CRPF jawans comb Metala forest after the encounter on Monday. Picture by Samir Mondal
Oct. 2: The state intelligence branch (IB) had tipped off the CRPF about Maoists regrouping in Goaltore’s Metala forest, where two jawans were killed by rebels yesterday, when it learnt that the paramilitary force was planning a training camp there.
At least one IB officer said the casualties could have been avoided had the CRPF heeded the warning.
In a detailed report to the CRPF, the IB had pointed to the recovery of arms and ammunition from West Midnapore in the past one year and described the haul as the “tip of the iceberg”. The report said Maoists were in possession of a lot of arms.
“There are several hundred Maoist cadres, recruited from villages located in dense forests, including Metala, who are still roaming freely. These youths are now being organised into units under the leadership of some key members of the rebel outfit. This young brigade is already posing a threat to the security forces,” an officer quoted the report as saying.
The two jawans were apparently not wearing bullet-proof jackets and were relaxing after training when they were shot dead outside the makeshift camp by the Maoists, who took no hit in the ensuing encounter.
“The paramilitary force set up a camp inside the forest to train 36 personnel in jungle warfare. This was the place where Maoist leader Sidhu Soren was gunned down with seven other rebels a couple of years ago. They (the CRPF) did not pay any heed to our warning and set up the training camp without sanitising the 20sqkm forest and its adjoining areas,” an IB officer said.
Another intelligence officer said ignoring the warning led to the killings of the two jawans.
CRPF IG Vivek Sahay said the message from the IB lacked specifics. “Sometimes, the reports are vague. Yesterday’s incident was an unfortunate one and we are trying to identify the attackers. A search is on to track down at least 10 key functionaries of the rebel outfit,” he said.
According to police, Metala forest and its adjoining areas were Maoist strongholds during the Lalgarh movement in 2009.
“The area where yesterday’s attack took place is close to Bankura, which is a Maoist stronghold. After the killing of Maoist guerrilla leader Kishan in November last year, the Maoists lay low for a couple of months. But the state police made the mistake of thinking that the Maoist chapter was over and stopped collecting information on them. The reality is that in the recent months, the insurgents have stepped up their activities and are regrouping,” an IB officer said.
Records available with West Midnapore police show that since the joint forces moved into Lalgarh in June 2009, nearly 800 weapons, including AK-47 and Insas rifles, have been seized from the Maoists. But this, the police said, is only a fraction of the arms still in the possession of the rebels.
“Nearly half of the 44 semi-automatic firearms that were looted from the Shilda camp in 2010 is still in the Maoists’ possession. They also have weapons looted from the security forces in neighbouring Jharkhand and Odisha,” a police officer said. Twenty-four Eastern Frontier Rifles jawans were killed in the Maoist attack on the Shilda camp.
The police said the Maoists had hidden their arms in the villages dotting the forests in Jungle Mahal. “It will be difficult to search each and every village. Once the Maoists get to know that we have launched such an operation, they will remove the arms,” the officer said.
Since the government started a fresh crackdown on the rebels last year, 250 hardcore CPI (Maoist) members have been arrested.
“They were recruited from villages and trained by the Maoists. But there are at least 1,500 such trained and armed youths who are living like common people in the villages. These young men are becoming active again and will pose a threat to us,” an officer said.