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With no helicopters, soldiers bleed to death

india Updated: Apr 18, 2009 01:20 IST
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He bled to death on polling day on the bumpy road ride to hospital after a Naxalite attack in remote Jharkhand. A helicopter could have saved the life of BSF constable Birendra Yadav.

But the government’s Rs 45-crore Dhruv helicopter, maintained every year for Rs 9 lakh and meant to ferry the wounded, has been grounded since December. It has no pilots.

As a paramilitary soldier blew up on Friday after stepping on a landmine in a remote Jharkhand village in Latehar, the deaths in cascading Naxalite violence across five states over three days rose to 28.

More than 4,200 people have been killed in Naxal-related violence in two years. But short of helicopters, sophisticated weapons and night vision equipment, the men at the frontline seem to be fighting insurgency with hands tied at the back.

At Arki, 70 km southeast of Jharkhand’s capital Ranchi, five Central Reserve Police Force soldiers bled to death in the absence of a helicopter on April 11 after a Naxal attack an hour before Congress president Sonia Gandhi addressed a rally.

Chhattisgarh has just one four-seater helicopter to fight the insurgency. A state minister chose to use it last year denying seats to three policemen seriously wounded in Naxal attacks, who needed to go from Jagdalpur town to Raipur for treatment. One of them died.

State governments are forbidden from using helicopters in operations. Many governments have sought permission to launch heli-borne offensive operations – the kind that have helped forces fight Naxalites in countries from Central America to Nepal -- but have been denied.

At least 73 small and big Naxal strikes reported since Wednesday were a new assault on the massively under-resourced paramilitary and police forces fighting the insurgency, which will be the biggest internal security challenge before the new government.

In the latest attack in Latehar, many more casualties were averted because the troopers were walking – unlike their six colleagues who were killed when their bus ran over a landmine on polling day Thursday. Security forces are advised to use motorcycles or walk on dirt tracks in Naxal areas where land mines are often placed. The newest casualty was in the Latehar-Saryu village in eastern Jharkhand when a Border Security Force soldier detonated a Naxal land mine as troopers escorted polling parties. Three others were wounded in the third attack in the area in three days. Tactical errors had also been committed in Chhattisgarh, where five polling staff members were killed in a land mine explosion in Kamkasur, 220 kilometres west of Raipur.

The poll officials instead of following the main route decided to take a shorter path – the unsafe and uneven dirt track through the forest.

At least nine states across India are under the influence of Naxal violence that has claimed some 4,200 lives over the past two years. Naxal-affected states received some Rs 6,000 crore in Security-Related Expenditure during 2007-2008. But the Jharkhand government diverted some of the money meant for security modernisation towards the Police Construction Housing Corporation. And it bought hundreds of generators for electricity-starved police stations but did not provide for diesel or sheds or attendants, so they could not be used.

In Bihar, more than 400 out of 800 police stations and police outposts still do not have boundary walls. Thirty per cent of them do not have wireless sets and their vehicles are run down.

“There is no concrete action plan to deal with extremism in the state. As a result, the policemen are being killed by Naxalites,” Bihar Police Association general secretary K.K. Jha told HT.

(With inputs from Vishal Sharma in Latehar, Jharkhand, Ramashankar in Patna and Aloke Tikku in New Delhi)

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