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Police training needs an overhaul: Experts

delhi Updated: Mar 17, 2007 09:48 IST
Chhattisgarh

As India's security agencies do a postmortem of the massacre of 55 policemen by Maoists in Chhattisgarh, experts say only a thorough overhaul of the way the police are trained, armed and cared for will help them win the war against increasingly determined extremists.

The cold blooded and well-planned killings in an isolated police camp in a forested part of Chhattisgarh early on Thursday has shamed and stunned the central and state security agencies, making them ask what really went wrong.

In just four hours, some 300 men and women extremists of the Communist Party of India-Maoist slaughtered most of the 74 Chhattisgarh Armed Force men and Special Police Officers, drawing them out at 2 am by torching the camp. It took reinforcements five hours to reach the site. By then, all the attackers had escaped.

A veteran police officer said there was no need to despair.

"We have proved in Andhra Pradesh that the police can take on the Maoists. I think this should be true for other states as well," said HJ Dora, a retired Director General of police in the southern state where Maoist extremists today find it difficult to move about freely.

But in states bordering or not far from Andhra Pradesh, such as Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Bihar, the story is different. Here, the security forces keep getting beaten in the dragging war against committed Maoist guerrillas, whose ranks now include women from impoverished tribal communities.

Police officers around the country say the successes in counter-insurgency achieved by the elite Grey Hounds force in Andhra Pradesh lies in the motivated training given to its men, who are constantly on the lookout for the rebels. In many other states police forces stay put in camps and rarely step out at night.

A Jammu and Kashmir officer underlined how the Special Operations Group (SOG), an elite police dedicated to fighting Pakistan-backed Islamist separatists, had notched up numerous successes despite some blemishes. "It may be a much maligned force, but the fact is SOG has done wonders in Kashmir," the officer said.

The SOG, believed to be 2,200-strong, is trained to fight and kill. Its men maintain meticulous records of active and surrendered terrorsits as well as their collaborators and spies.

SOG personnel are armed with AK-47 assault rifles as well as rocket-propelled guns, which are normally not issued to police forces but which terrorists in the country from Jammu and Kashmir to the northeast besides Maoists possess.

Jammu and Kashmir has also set up schools and hospitals that cater to its policemen and their families. "There are hostels for children of the policemen. It is important for the state to care for those who are ready to die."

That, security experts say, is sadly lacking in most states.

Even the Q Branch of the Tamil Nadu Police, set up decades ago to track down Maoists and other rebel groups, suffers from poor technological infrastructure, unlike the Grey Hounds. In the process, most police forces wake up only after extremists have struck instead of going after them on their own.

Last year, hundreds of Maoist extremists stormed a jail in Bihar's Jehanabad district, killed the guards and fled with hordes of prisoners including Maoists. No one was ever caught.

Only this month, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Sunil Mahato was shot dead in Jharkhand while watching a football match though he had police guards.

Policemen in Jharkhand have now been told not to go anywhere unarmed, not even to the toilet! And they have been told never to be in lungis in barracks since the loose dress is not convenient for fighting.

Although the Indian Army and the Border Security Force have scored many points against terrorists, including the northeast, most police forces lag behind in training, weaponry and motivation.

One of the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers caught in the sea off Tamil Nadu the previous month was amused to see that the policemen guarding them were merrily chatting away on mobile phones with one another. Realizing that his own training was far superior to that of these policemen, the young Tamil man told an officer with an air of contempt, "Your men are sloppy, Sir!"