Twenty four civilians and 11 special police officers were killed when members of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) blew up a private bus using a powerful Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Civilians comprised youth appearing for a constabulary exam.

At least 35 people – 24 civilians and 11 Special Police Officers – were killed on Monday when Maoists blew up a private bus using a powerful Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The blast occurred at 4.30 p.m. at Chingavaram on the Dantewada-Sukhma road in Chhattisgarh.

In Raipur, Inspector General R.K. Vij confirmed the death of 12 security personnel, but police sources at the spot said a total of 35 bodies were recovered. “Search operations have been suspended for the night,” said a senior police officer.

“As the exact number of passengers in the bus is not known, a final figure shall be provided after a daylight search.”

At present, 17 SPOs and 10 civilians, all injured, have been counted so far. The bus was carrying 50-60 people.

The sources said those escaping from the bus came under fire from Maoists. The civilians comprised youth appearing for a constabulary exam.

“Currently we are in the midst of a recruitment drive,” confirmed the police officer. “Those killed were returning to Sukhma after the exam.”

In the past week, the police carried out extensive de-mining operations in the area. On May 14, the police defused IEDs weighing about 65 kg on the Bhejji-Gorkha road and another IED, weighing about 15 kg, near Chintalnar. On May 15, nine crude bombs were discovered in Kanker district. However, officials stressed their inability to declare any area totally mine-free.

“Maoist fast food”

“IEDs are like Maoist fast food,” said a police officer. “The mines can be planted in as little as 15 minutes. An area can be completely de-mined, but Maoists would plant a bomb within half-an-hour.”

Officials said the recent attacks were part of an annual Maoist Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign . “Every year we see a spike in Maoist violence in the prelude to the monsoon season [mid-June to Mid-August],” said the sources. In an IED explosion in Bijapur district on May 8, seven CRPF personnel were killed. On April 6, Maoists massacred 75 CRPF soldiers and one police head constable in an ambush.

Maoists have also stepped up attacks against tribals and civilians who, they feel, are assisting the police. On May 17, Maoists killed six tribals in Rajanandgaon for allegedly passing information to the police.

Crucial cog

Adivasi youth are a crucial cog in the State's fight against Maoists as they know the terrain and are familiar with Maoist methods. Besides recruiting tribals into the regular force, the police have also stepped up efforts to recruit Special Police Officers to serve as guides in jungle combing operations.

Police recruitment in Chhattisgarh has gathered momentum as the shortfall is affecting the operations of para-military forces.