Dantewada probe points to crisis in CRPF

Internal investigations into last month's annihilation of a Central Reserve Police Force by Maoists in Dantewada have thrown up disturbing evidence of incompetence and outright insubordination in India's largest Central police force.

Following an in-house court of inquiry, and a separate investigation carried out by the former Border Security Force Director-General, E.N. Ram Mohan, for the Union Home Ministry, the CRPF has transferred three officers with supervisory authority for the patrol. CRPF Director-General Vikram Shrivastava told journalists on Friday that Deputy Inspector-General of Police Nalin Prabhat, battalion commandant Vimal Bisht, and Inspector Sanjiv Bagre were relieved of their responsibilities because of “certain acts of omission and commission.”

Earlier, in a May 6 talk to students at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram expressed his shock “that an Inspector-General, two Deputy Inspectors-General and a Superintendent of Police [acted] thoughtlessly, without plan.”

But the findings of the court of inquiry and the Rammohan Committee suggest that the three officers in fact had little role, if any, in the errors which led to the loss of 76 personnel. Instead, the investigations make clear that the men and their field commander chose to ignore plans — and lied to their headquarters about their movements. The findings bode ill for the future of the Union government's anti-Maoist campaign, which is heavily reliant on the CRPF.

Breakdown of command

Early this summer, police and CRPF commanders in Dantewada conceived of a 72-hour operation to dislodge Maoist formations massed around the periphery of security force camps. Most Maoist attacks on the CRPF had taken place within a five-kilometre radius of their own camps. This suggested that the force had failed to dislocate the Maoist concentrations around them, thus defeating the point of having been there in the first place.

Based on these plans, Bisht tasked the 62 Battalion's Alpha Company, reinforced with elements of the Golf Company, to execute a long-range patrol. The patrol was to traverse an extended arc, at a range of four-five km from the battalion's post at Chintalnar. It was just one of 38 similar patrols despatched into the forests.

The 62 Battalion, the court of inquiry found, disregarded its orders. Late in the evening of April 4, the patrol sent out a wireless message to the battalion's tactical headquarters, indicating that it had commenced its operation. In fact, the patrol had not yet moved. The men only left their headquarters at Chintalnar at 2:30 a.m. on April 5, paused to search the village of Burkapal and then headed back the way they had come, towards the village of Mukhram.

In the afternoon, the Ram Mohan Committee records, the patrol camped at a field near the village of Mukhram and sent for water and firewood. Later, “a big vessel was brought from the company post by a civilian on a motorcycle, and they cooked khichdi” — a fact which suggests the men had chosen not to carry standard pre-cooked rations.

Late that evening, the men turned back towards their base and slept at a hostel meant for Adivasi schoolchildren located just a few hundred metres from the company post at Chintalnar.

However, the unit was forced back to Mukhram on the morning of April 6, when its men realised that they had misplaced a wireless set — a loss that would have invited disciplinary action.

Put together, the Ram Mohan committee states, the unit's decisions were “suicidal.” Maoist formations had, the investigators determined, been stalking the patrol — and found the missing wireless set at the place where the patrol had prepared lunch. Knowing that the CRPF would return, they set up an ambush.

Interestingly, highly placed sources told The Hindu, the Intelligence Bureau's Raipur station had reported the presence of a large Maoist group in the area on May 5. The information was passed on to the Chhattisgarh police in Dantewada that evening — even though, for reasons that are not clear, local authorities say they only received the information the following morning, after the ambush. The CRPF never received the intelligence.

“Even if it had,” the sources pointed out, “it wouldn't have changed anything. The patrol's actions show it was fearful of operating in an area known to have a substantial presence of Maoists. The intelligence would have told the men what they already knew.”

Both the court of enquiry and the Ram Mohan Committee blame the 62 Battalion's deputy commander, Satyawan Yadav, for failing to act on his orders. However, neither inquiry established why the 62 Battalion had defied its orders — and why its men did not seem to possess jungle warfare skills. Men from the Alpha Company had received specialist counter-Maoist training for three weeks in March but, their errors of judgment show, paid little attention to their teachers.

Part of the problem could lie in the 62 Battalion's troubled past. Bisht, CRPF sources said, had been hand-picked by CRPF Director-General A.S. Gill to rebuild morale in the unit after his predecessor was removed for deserting his post. Earlier this month, the police in Uttar Pradesh arrested several personnel at the Battalion's headquarters on Rampur on the charge of selling ammunition to local criminal groups.

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 9:51:17 AM |

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