Questions surface about the wisdom of setting it up
Within 72 hours of Saturday night’s devastating Maoist strike, Chhattisgarh police have removed one of their biggest camps from Minapa in Sukma district, located deep inside the forest, possibly fearing another attack. The camp was removed lock, stock and barrel on Tuesday, 15 days after it was set up. Reportedly, it housed a thousand personnel.
Till last week, police officers were talking about the camp as a major strategic advance in the direction of the Andhra Pradesh border. But repeated firing by rebels on the camp had clearly put the police on the back foot.
Constables and junior officers on the ground believe that the Minapa camp, 50 km south of Sukma, had a vital link to the Darbha attack on Saturday, which saw the death of 27 Congress workers and leaders.
“All attention was focussed on reaching supplies and facilities to Minapa,” said one officer. Many officers felt it would not be inaccurate to connect Minapa with Darbha.
According to informed sources, the camp was a fine example of “horrendous planning.” It was set up even as the monsoon was approaching. “The camp should have been set up in October or November, so that it would have been well-established by the time the monsoon arrived,” said a constable.
The camp lacked even basic facilities such as toilets. There were no shade-trees to give cover — from rain, heat or stray firing. Personnel were spending their nights virtually in the open in an area largely controlled by Maoists.
Some constables told The Hindu that casualties were growing. “They went out to defecate and got shot. One died of bullet injuries and another got shot. One died of snake bite; there was no anti-venom available,” said one of them.
Constables alleged they were virtually left in the jungle to rot and die. “We were left in an open space, in the forest, in temperatures above 47 degrees, and told to set up facilities, to defend ourselves and go on the offensive. This was absurd,” said one. Moreover, some of them were brought from the plains of Chhattisgarh. They had limited knowledge of the terrain and often suffered from dehydration. One officer said the camp was intended to be in place only for 15 to 20 days. “It was an experiment carried out to place an additional camp in the Maoist hotbed for two weeks during the Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign (TCOC) of the Maoists, so that we can engage them while they are busy planning,” he said. But the Maoist TCOC continues.
Director General of Police Ram Niwas defended the camp project. “We clearly achieved what we wanted to achieve. The Maoists were pushed back [during the TCOC],” he said.
Mr. Niwas was not ready to accept the views put forward by the constables. “There are officers with decades of experience who designed the plan and worked on it, and we achieved our target. If constables start finalising plans, how are we going to operate?”
He denied that the additional burden put on officers in Bastar in setting up the camp had left a hole in routine policing operations.
Meanwhile, Bastar’s Inspector General of Police Himanshu Gupta has been shifted, and attached to headquarters. Indications are that at least part of the blame for the Darbha debacle has been put on him, and Mayank Srivastava, Superintendent of Police, Bastar.