Crucial meet on sanitising convoy route didn’t take place

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Chhattisgarh police have a lot of questions to answer. Saturday’s Maoist attack a convoy carrying Congress workers and leaders took place at Jeeram Ghati, a narrow seven kilometre stretch at the entry point of Darbha Ghati, a hilly stretch with winding roads, from Sukma. The area has both forests and hills, but both are less hostile compared to the terrain further south near the Andhra border. The place, according to security officials, is ideal for ambush, but there was hardly any security mobilisation.

There are multiple bends along the Jeeram stretch and each bend can be considered an ambush point as the vehicles inevitably slow down there. In addition, it is one single, narrow stretch that can hardly accommodate more than one vehicle, and overtaking a car there is a risky business. Moreover, the uplands around the area are neither too high nor too low, making it an ideal location for a guerrilla ambush. Hence, extra care was required to sanitise the area, something the police is well aware of as senior politicians and VIPs regularly use the stretch to reach Sukma from Jagdalpur.

“Normally in situations like this, there is a prior meeting between security officials where the police superintendent and the paramilitary commandant is present,” said a senior security official. This crucial meeting, however, did not take place this time.

Secondly, the area was not sanitised at various levels. There is a road domination exercise before VIP movement, followed by deputation of police personnel at various locations, including the probable ambush points. “Ideally, security should man the entire stretch but that may not be possible as that would require heavy deployment. But at least some of the forces should be placed inside the forest, which possibly wasn’t there,” said an official. Locals around Darbha Ghati area told The Hindu that the force movement that they normally experience before VIP movements was absent.

Sources informed The Hindu that the State government told the Prime Minister and the Congress president that about 700 State forces were made available to guard the area. Congress leaders, however, differ. “None of our leaders or workers had seen any substantial force anywhere from Sukma to Jagdalpur. Where were these forces placed,” asked party spokesperson Shailesh Nitin Tribedi.

Jeeram is located between two police stations — Darbha and Tongpal. Congress workers feel forces could have been mobilised from these stations. “It could have also been mobilised from different camps. There are a few thousands of State police in various camps, they could have been mobilised,” felt a senior officer.

In fact, the Maoist fighters were not too keen to move away from the area after the ambush. They took out food packets and water bottles, had them in the forest and left the empty boxes behind. “Right above there eating place Mahendra Karma was killed. The rebels emptied an entire magazine on him,” a young boy from Tongpal said. Officials believe that the rebels were relaxed as they were aware that no forces were chasing them or were even aware of the incident.

“Where was the Z Plus team?”

The other critical question that has not been answered so far is about the Z Plus security cover of Mahendra Karma, the former leader of the Opposition and founder of Salwa Judum. “Where was the Z Plus team,” asked a civil rights activist who sounded confused. The other question is even more puzzling.

Sources told The Hindu that the few personal security guards of the leaders, most of who got killed, ran out of ammunition after an hour’s combat, while the Maoists kept firing. “While it is said, Maoists are slowly running out of ammunition, they kept firing at us and we could not do a thing. Is it more funny or tragic,” an officer asked.

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