Maoists planted an IED at school building in Chhattisgarh district

Last Sunday, troopers of the Border Security Force received a tip that cadres of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) had planted an Improvised Explosive Device in a school building that was to be used as a polling booth in the by-election for the Bastar Lok Sabha constituency.

“We did not have the equipment to detect the IED or defuse it, so we shifted the polling booths outside,” said a BSF officer in charge of protecting the polling party, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the press.

The night before, on May 7, four BSF companies (about 400 men) and about 150 policemen had set up a camp six km away at Kundla in a residential school run by the Ramakrishna Mission. Troopers said the Maoists opened fire on the school in the early hours of Sunday.

When this correspondent visited the area on May 8, the school had been cordoned off by security forces, armed sentries manned the gates and chalk-dust markings on the ground suggested that the school yard was being used as a helipad to ferry voting machines.

As the Maoist insurgency gathered intensity in Chhattisgarh, the schools have unwittingly been pulled into the vortex of the conflict. While Central paramilitary forces such as the Central Reserve Police Force have set up permanent camps in the districts of Narayanpur, Bijapur and Dantewada, the Maoists have retaliated by destroying vacant school buildings. Senior Maoist commanders told this correspondent that their party encouraged teachers to teach children in interior villages, but they would not allow security forces to use school buildings to stage anti-Maoist operations.

Court's order

In January this year, the Supreme Court directed the security forces in Chhattisgarh to vacate all school buildings, educational institutes and hostels by May 18 this year. It is unclear if security forces shall be able to meet the deadline. Senior paramilitary officers have told this correspondent that forces such as the BSF and CRPF could only set up camps in buildings or vacant lots provided to them by the State government.

The Ramakrishna Mission currently runs five schools in the forested interiors of Narayanpur district in areas controlled by the Maoists. The schools are currently closed for the summer.

‘No police camps'

“In this election we used a predominantly mobile force and did not set up any police camps,” said Bastar Commissioner K. Srinivasalu. “Under the Supreme Court order, forces cannot occupy any school buildings.”

While Mr. Srinivasalu said he was unable to provide detailed confirmation of the incident as Naryanpur's phone network was not functioning, he said the force might have entered the Ramakrishna Mission School without explicit orders from the administration.

“There was no one in the school when the force arrived to seek shelter for the night,” said Mr. Srinivasalu, adding that the forces spent only one night on the premises and left soon after.