Baliba (West Singhbhum), April 8: Mine after mine exploded under the wheels of a large security force combing the forests here last evening, killing 27 in the largest Naxalite strike anywhere in the country.
An equal number of district policemen and CRPF jawans were injured in the three blasts that came days before the elections, which Naxalite groups are asking people to boycott.
The attack by guerrillas of the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) preceded by about a day deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s entry into Jharkhand with his Bharat Uday yatra. Advani is also the home minister.
Praveen Kumar, the West Singhbhum SP, was injured in the explosions and was operated on the thigh at a Calcutta hospital tonight after a dramatic escape.
“The SP’s Gypsy was leading the convoy and as soon as it negotiated a sharp turn, a powerful explosion took place and we saw the escort vehicle getting blown away. Within seconds, the jeep of the Noamundi officer-in-charge, too, was blown up in the second blast. I was in the fourth jeep and escaped unhurt since our vehicle was a little behind,” A.K. Ram, the officer-in-charge of Gua police station, said.
The biggest strike since an ambush in the same Saranda forests in December 2002 — that had killed 19 policemen — occurred when a team of the district police, led by Kumar, was returning from Baliba village to Gua, a mining town, in the evening.
Police teams had been combing the region since April 6 following a tip-off that Naxalites were active among villagers. Kumar was leading the operation. Unknown to the team of about 120 policemen and CRPF jawans, the rebels — said to number 100 — were watching its movements.
“The rebels selected the 2.5-km stretch along the Gua-Baliba road to lay the landmines in a span of just three to four hours. Usually, police teams do not return by the same route that it takes to enter a village,” a police official said.
“But yesterday, this stretch had to be used by the police to return to Gua as there is no alternative route. The rebels knew this and laid the trap,” the official added.
After the first explosion, Ram saw Kumar jump out of the jeep that was ablaze as splinters from the mine blast had possibly pierced the fuel tank.
“Kumar suffered injuries to head, thigh and hand,” said Priya Dubey, the SP of neighbouring Seraikella-Kharsawan district.
Ram Singh, Kumar’s driver who jumped off the vehicle, too, said the SP had fired quite a few rounds at the rebels when a bullet hit him on the hand, damaging the rifle as well.
“He escaped from the spot with the help of his bodyguards,” Dubey said.
In the chaos after the blasts, the policemen and the jawans ran for cover, coming under fire from the Maoist guerrillas, who had taken position at a height in the thick forest.
Ram Sagar, the officer-in-charge of Noamundi police station, and Jai Ram, a sub-inspector with the CRPF’s 152 battalion, died on the spot. One rebel was also killed in the exchange.
“The landmine used by the Naxalites was very powerful and operated by an expert from outside the state,” Dubey said.
The police, she added, had launched the search after a tip-off that around 80 Naxalites had entered from across the Orissa border.
She, however, could not say from where the landmines were procured and the exact place from which the Naxalites had come. Seven police weapons were reportedly snatched by the Naxalites.
Shortly after the blasts, some Naxalites tried to derail the Howrah-Mumbai Mail by placing wooden planks across the track, but the driver was alert to the danger.