Gadchiroli: No lessons learnt

Failure on the part of police personnel to follow standard operating procedures in insurgency-wracked areas has claimed the lives of 16 people, including 15 commandos of a Quick Response Team of the Maharashtra Reserve Police Force and a civilian bus driver. The 15 commandos were travelling in a civilian vehicle when Maoists detonated an improvised explosive device buried in the road near Jambhumpada village in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district. Just hours earlier, Maoists had torched a fleet of buses belonging to private contractors. The commandos were being rushed there. Apparently, police authorities hurriedly assembled the commandos and put them in a private bus. A swift response was undoubtedly required, but standard operating procedures were ignored in the process, which goes against all the training given to such forces. SOPs forbid security personnel from travelling in civilian buses. Besides, the movement of personnel by road should be preceded by a road-opening party sanitising the route. Police authorities should have waited for a landmine-proof vehicle. Why did they not do so? Were such vehicles not available?

What makes the violation of SOPs all the more unacceptable is that Maoist attacks through IED blasts or landmines were expected. A year ago, the commando unit had carried out an operation in the area in which 40 Maoists were killed. The Maoists were observing a week-long protest to mark that incident and were expected to carry out a revenge attack on the unit. Additionally, elections are going on, which the Maoists are boycotting. They are said to have carried out several attacks in the area since the start of elections and had even fired at helicopter-borne security personnel who were moving election officials after polling ended. They would have been looking for opportunities to strike again. Police authorities erred grievously by providing the Maoists with such an opportunity. Their carelessness has caused the loss of many lives. The attack in Gadchiroli is the deadliest since 2017. It was wholly avoidable.

Just over two months ago, terrorists targeted a bus carrying CRPF personnel in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Some 40 cops were killed in that attack. As at Gadchiroli, in Pulwama, too, police authorities ignored SOPs. Were no lessons learnt after the Pulwama suicide-bombing? The Narendra Modi government often engages in tough talk with regard to dealing with insurgents and terrorists. However, funding for armoured personnel carriers for transporting our security forces in conflict zones is not enough. This, and the lackadaisical approach to SOPs, is bleeding our security forces. Protocols and procedures are put in place for a good reason, ignoring them often leads to attacks such as Pulwama and Gadchiroli. Who is responsible?

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