The Chhattisgarh Police and experts on Maoist warfare are blaming the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) for repeatedly falling victim to Maoist guerrillas.
Police sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, say that the CRPF personnel are not only poorly trained to operate in jungle terrain but are also reluctant to take on the well-entrenched Maoists.
On top of it, the sources say, the CRPF personnel refuse to follow intelligence inputs while launching operations deep in the impregnable forests of Bastar region.
"A majority of the CRPF men here are exhausted as they have been dumped in this Maoist nerve centre from other conflict zones such as Kashmir without being given any rest," a senior officer and counter-insurgency expert said.
The harsh comments came a day after 24 CRPF personnel and two policemen were massacred by Maoists in Narayanpur district, in the worst such Maoist attack after 36 people were killed in a bus bombing in May.
"The Indian government is fighting a war relying on a force that is not ready mentally or physically to take the bull by its horn," said the source who did not want to be identified by name or rank.
"They (CRPF) are ill-trained and ill-equipped and have mentally given up. If the government wants to turn the heat on the Maoists, it must quickly phase out these exhausted CRPF battalions from Chhattisgarh and bring in battalions that have experience of battling insurgency in jungle terrain, such as the Naga and Mizo battalions," the expert said.
A police officer having a record of serving in Maoist bastions for a long period remarked: "Keeping the demoralized CRPF is hurting everyone. This includes the government and strategists and above all the local policemen who want to fight and die as war heroes."
"The big problem in Chhattisgarh now is a big gap in coordination between the CRPF and state police. The CRPF men refuse to use even specific intelligence inputs while going on operations. They flout standard operating procedures such as sneaking into landmine zones without clearing the areas of explosives," the officer said.
A police officer in Bastar region said 14 CRPF battalions were now deployed in the state. Thirteen were based in Bastar in the south and one battalion was in the northern district of Surguja bordering Jharkhand.
"No matter how many meetings the top officials hold in Raipur and New Delhi, the fact is that only a new and sensible war policy in Chhattisgarh can save the jawans and prevent needless deaths," said another officer in Jagdalpur, headquarters of the Bastar region.
The 40,000 sq km Bastar region, made up of five districts - Narayanpur, Bastar, Kanker, Bijapur and Dantewada - has been the nervecentre of Maoist guerrillas in India since the late 1980s.
Chhattisgarh's police chief Vishwa Ranjan claims that Maoists have mined up to 25,000 sq km area of Bastar's total 40,000 sq km terrain.
Anil Vibhakar, a Raipur-based analyst on Maoist issue, said: "The government is fighting a losing battle in Chhattisgarh. The forces have been sent to the forests only to die. If a new policy is not adopted urgently, we will only hear news of more killings from Bastar."