Raipur, May 8: As many as eight central paramilitary jawans fell prey to a Maoist landmine on a bustling national highway in Chhattisgarh this evening, the bomb escaping a road opening party that had combed the stretch a few hours ago.
The death of the CRPF personnel came a little over a month after 76 policemen were cut down in the same state in the worst massacre of security forces in the country and raised questions about the promises made then to plug lethal loopholes.
Todays attack in Bijapur district also added a menacing factor to the Maoist offensive: rarely has a national highway been picked out in the state for such a bloody carnage and that too at the evening rush hour.
Two civilians who were on a bike nearby were injured in the blast, which tossed the vehicle carrying the jawans several feet in the air. The vehicle broke into pieces as it landed in an eight-foot crater created by the explosion, officials said.
The powerful blast took place on NH-16 that connects Nizamabad in Andhra Pradesh with Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh. The site is around 100km from Dantewada, where the 75 CRPF jawans and their police guide were massacred on April 6.
The dead have been identified as Santosh Chaurasia (sub-inspector), Hazarilal (head constable), H.K. Ghosh (head constable from Assam), M. Subramanium (head constable) and Tekram Verma, Rakesh Meena, Santosh Chauhan and Salab Singh (constables).
They were travelling in what officials said was an armoured vehicle another instance that suggests the guerrillas have figured out the quantity of explosives needed to smash through the barrier.
In Dantewada, too, the Maoists had blown up a vehicle, variously described as mine-protected and armoured. Even if protected, the vehicles can withstand the impact of only a certain amount of explosives.
However, the oversight that appeared most glaring was the ineffective presence of the road opening party, which is supposed to sanitise roads.
Senior officials were visiting Awapalli (the scheduled destination of the jawans) and an opening party was at work on the road, an official said. However, the road opening party failed to spot the mine.
The jawans were heading to Awapalli for administrative work. The nature of the assignment and the absence of any Maoist strike on the stretch for over four months could have made the group complacent, sources said.
In the morning, there was heavy movement of security personnel in the area. But the rebels waited till evening, by when the jawans might have been convinced that the area was safe.
When the vehicle reached Peddakodepal, about 9km from Bijapur, the mine was detonated. Six jawans died on the spot, one succumbed to injuries on the way to hospital, deputy inspector-general of police (intelligence) Pawan Deo said. Another jawan died later.
The site of the explosion has alarmed security agencies. We have to investigate how the Maoists managed to plant mines on a national highway and trigger the blast, inspector-general of police R.K. Vij said.
The sources said the rebels could have planted the mine months ago, and waited waiting for an opportunity to wreak maximum damage.