But for an eerie silence and a hurriedly repaired three-foot-deep crater on the metalled road to Lalgarh, there was hardly any evidence on Thursday of the landmine explosion triggered by the Maoists targeting a vehicle carrying Central Reserve Police Force personnel killing five personnel less than 24 hours ago.
Among those killed was the deputy commandant of 66 Battalion, V.P. Singh, who was earlier posted in Jammu and Kashmir and had joined duty here only six days ago.
Several CRPF personnel were seen searching the fields along the road, which is flanked by dense forest, for more such mines. The spot falls in a region where Maoists have been active in recent months.
Residents of the adjoining villages alleged that the CRPF personnel were behaving in a high-handed manner and even beat up several persons, including women, following the incident suspecting them to be Maoist-sympathisers.
“This landmine was planted long back it seems. That it went unnoticed all this while even after several checks on this route is unfortunate. The impact of the explosion was so intense that the car was flung 100 ft into the air before it came crashing down. We have recovered a 200-metre-long wire from the spot,” a CRPF official, belonging to the same battalion as that of the five personnel killed, said while supervising the search operation.
A section of the battalion believes that the Maoists had been targeting the commandant for long and was keeping a watch on his movement.
On Wednesday, Mr. Singh had chosen to travel by the car generally used by the commandant and it appears that the rebels blew up the vehicle presuming that it was carrying the commandant.
Moreover, the convoy took the same route while returning to Goaltore from Ramgarh as it had taken in its onward journey — a gross violation of standard operation procedure (SOP) guidelines for security personnel functioning in an insurgency-stricken area.
The official also said that the deputy commandant's two-vehicle-convoy had foregone the routine ‘road opening patrol' which ensures that any suspicious object is screened by the forces before the passage of a convoy.
Asked if the convoy had violated the SOP guidelines, CRPF Special Director-General Vijay Raman told TheHindu that more than violating the SOP, the personnel appeared to have neglected the intelligence reports of a possible Maoist attack during the 48-hour-bandh called by them.
“The deputy commandant was just six-day-old in the battalion and so had little knowledge about the terrain and the situation. So the commandant should have cautioned him. They should also have avoided taking the same route twice. In a word, such an incident was avoidable,” Mr. Raman said.
Guard of honour
A guard of honour was given to three of the five CRPF personnel killed in the blast before their bodies were flown back home on Thursday.
State's Director-General of Police Bhupinder Singh was present.