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CIMA Gallary

Centre turns copter-hit heat on IAF

New Delhi, Jan. 21: The defence ministry has asked the Indian Air Force for a report on last week’s Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh on a machinegun-fitted helicopter that was riddled with bullets fired by the rebels.

The home ministry is also expecting a report from the Chhattisgarh government detailing the sequence of events that Friday evening.

Police and the CRPF have reported that the helicopter crew left the scene, leaving behind an injured policeman, the chopper and even a personal weapon, a 9mm pistol.

The air force says its crew members, who walked off to the nearest police station, had acted according to norms and that the police did not “sanitise” the area where the chopper was to land, an allegation sources in the home ministry conceded was true.

The Mi-17 helicopter had been “badly damaged”, IAF sources said.

Sources said after the report from the Chhattisgarh government, the home ministry would take a view on the incident, although security forces have expressed disappointment at the IAF crew’s action.

The air force personnel, including two Garuda commandos, are accused of leaving behind not only the aircraft fitted with two light machine guns (LMGs) but also a wounded Chhattisgarh police wireless operator, M.K. Sahu.

“The IAF has cited that its crew followed standard operating procedures. Is leaving behind LMGs and even a pistol part of standard operating procedure?” a senior government official said.

A source in the CRPF said personnel from the paramilitary force “found the pistol outside the helicopter”.

Union home secretary R.K. Singh today held a meeting with CRPF director-general Pranay Sahay to discuss the situation in the area in general and the “incident” in particular.

Singh had on Saturday night declared a reward of Rs 5 lakh for the CRPF CoBRA team that secured the deserted helicopter near Maoist hotbed Timilwada and rescued Sahu, the state armed police head constable, who had taken a bullet in the leg.

Hours earlier, the Maoists had attacked a Chhattisgarh armed police road-opening party, killing head constable Baisuram Mandavi and injuring platoon commander Nandkishore Bhadoriya. The helicopter was descending for landing when it came under fire.

Sources said it was an uncomfortable situation for the home ministry and security forces that depend heavily on the air force for casualty evacuation operations. Some 100 IAF personnel, including engineers, pilots and Garuda commandos, are deployed in Chhattisgarh alone.

Any mistrust between the IAF and police and paramilitary forces could result in poor co-ordination, they warned. “We don’t want to harp on this too much right now,” said a home ministry source.

The IAF has been operating in Maoist-affected areas following a 2010 cabinet decision, though it is not involved in active combat.