Last week Maharashtra asked the Centre for four Mi-17 helicopters to combat the Naxalite threat. Had even one been provided, the 40-member state commando team, which was ambushed by Naxalites in Laheri, Gadchiroli, on Thursday afternoon could have put up a better fight.
When the ambushed commandos were fighting at least 300 armed Naxalites,they sent out an SOS for a helicopter to rescue the injured. The state took four hours to arrange for one. By then 17 commandos were killed and the Naxalites had escaped.
N.S. Jagtap, spokesperson for the Gadchiroli police, said the Mi17 helicopters are yet to arrive. At Laheri, 500 kilometres south of Nagpur, nobody is speaking about the bloodshed.
“No, I can’t speak. If I speak, they [the naxalites] will kill me,” a terrified Tukaram Usendi said.
Some, who dare to speak, only said that all the villagers were inside their house on Thursday for over six hours after hearing the sound of firing from the jungle where around 40-odd police personnel took on some 300 armed naxalites.
“I was scared as my son was one of the members of the C-60 force fighting the extremists. It was an agonizing wait for my family until we got the news that he was safe,” says the father (name withheld to protect identity) of one of the commandos of the elite anti-Naxalite unit.
A police sub-inspector (name withheld to protect identity) who was part of the patrol party said that around 10.30 a.m. on Thursday they were in the jungles at Mallampaddur, just 2 km from the Laheri police station, when they spotted two people who fled at once. “We reached the spot and found a diary and a grenade. This led us to start a massive search operation in the area. However, we could not find anything in the area and were returning to the main road. Suddenly a strong group of armed naxalites, including women, attacked us.”
Before the policemen could take positions, the Maoists surrounded the entire force and opened fire. “This led us to seek reinforcements including helicopters. We informed the police station about the happening through the walkie-talkie. By then, the officer in charge of the police station, Chandrashekhar Deshmukh, and a constable, Vijay Kumre, were dead,” the sub-inspector said.
“The first reinforcement of 20 police personnel reached at 1.30 pm. But it was not enough and we requested for more. By 2.30 pm, 60 BSF jawans arrived with anti-landmine vehicles,” the sub-inspector said and added that the Naxalites fled after that.
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra Home Minister Jayant Patil flew in to Gadchiroli and paid glowing tributes to all the martyred policemen.