Intelligence reports preceded Tuesday’s Maoist strike

The Central Reserve Police Force and the Chhattisgarh Police ignored their own intelligence services’ pinpoint warnings that Maoist insurgents were preparing an ambush along the road where 15 police personnel were killed on Tuesday, highly placed government sources told The Hindu.

The revelations will raise questions why India’s $220-million fleet of Israeli-made surveillance drones was not used to track the build-up, and whether local counter-insurgency units were warned that a lethal Maoist strike was imminent.

The Chhattisgarh Police Intelligence wing, the sources said, issued the warning on the looming attack on March 5.

The warning recorded that 40-45 Maoist cadre had been sighted practising ambush manoeuvres between the villages of Gadam and Munga, under the jurisdiction of the Katekalyan police station on the Darba plateau in the Bastar region.

The report cited an informant as saying the ambush team was led by the head of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) Darba divisional committee ‘Surendra.’

Earlier, intelligence reports had identified Surendra, along with ‘Deval,’ ‘Vinod’ and ‘Nirmalakka,’ as a key figure in the local Maoist hierarchy, reporting to Dandakaranya’s overall zonal chief, Ravulu Srinivas.

The CRPF generated a similar warning on March 6, saying the Maoists were planning ambush manoeuvres inside a small area bound by the villages of Kukanar, Paknar and Tongpal. It recorded that the cadre were sheltering under tarpaulin sheets. Local CRPF and State police units, however, do not appear to have been ordered to launch offensive operations against the ambush team, or to take additional precautions against an attack.

The Home Affairs Ministry declined on-record comment on the story, but on Tuesday blamed the State government for failing to act on available intelligence.

Drones lose punch in tracking Naxals after long flights

India’s super-secret National Technical Reconnaissance organisation, or NTRO, operates a fleet of 12 Israeli-made Searcher tactical drones for surveillance of the vast forest tracts on the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa-Chhattisgarh border, home to the largest Maoist formations in the country.

The expensive investment in remotely piloted reconnaissance assets has not, however, led to success in detecting hundreds-strong Maoist units.

The major problem, NTRO sources said, is that the fleet operates out of the Begumpet airbase in Hyderabad, pushing the drones to the extremities of their range by the time they reach the Darba plateau and leaving them with little hover-time to gather imagery.

The NTRO and the Air Force, government sources said, rejected calls for relocation of the fleet at a Defence Research and Development Organisation-run airstrip in Jagdalpur, near the site of Tuesday’s attack.

The NTRO agreed, though, to move to an airstrip run by the Steel Authority of India in Bhilai — which, over 250 km from Jagdalpur, is less than half the air-distance from Hyderabad.

Neither NTRO nor Ministry officials offered comment on why the fleet had not moved since 2012, when the agreement to relocate to Bhilai was made.

However, one NTRO official said there were concerns over housing and living conditions for pilots, who currently stay at Fortune Hotel in Begumpet during their fortnight-long rotational postings from their base station in Dehradun.

In addition, the NTRO fleet, dependent on the Air Force for pilots trained in handling the remote-control aircraft, has been hit by a chronic manpower shortage. “For all practical purposes,” an NTRO official said, “the fleet is available only some 20 days of a month, and that for only a few hours a day.”

Late information

Police officials deployed on counter-insurgency duties in the region say information comes in so late that it is often useless. The IAF passes on the data harvested by its drones to the NTRO for analysis.

The NTRO, however, complains it does not have real-time access to the ground intelligence being generated by the police and the Intelligence Bureau.

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