By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On December 8, 2019, two personnel of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), a specialised unit of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) proficient in guerrilla tactics and jungle warfare, were injured in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion triggered by cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) near the Piyakuli Hills of Tamar town in Ranchi District, Jharkhand.
On December 2, 2019, a CRPF trooper was injured while defusing one of five IEDs planted by cadres of the CPI-Maoist in the Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh. While the SFs successfully defused four IEDs planted between Sarkeguda and Tarrem villages, the fifth IED planted in the nearby Sagmetta village exploded while being defused, injuring the trooper.
On November 30, 2019, cadres of the CPI-Maoist triggered an IED explosion, blowing up a bridge, in Bishnupur town, Gumla District, Jharkhand. No casualty was reported.
On November 22, 2019, a CRPF trooper sustained injuries in an IED explosion carried out by CPI-Maoist cadres near Tarrem village under Basaguda Police Station limits in Bijapur District, Chhattisgarh. The incident took place when a patrolling team of the CRPF’s 168 Battalion was out on an area domination operation.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Maoists have already carried out at least 47 IED explosions killing 35 persons, including 11 civilians, 22 SF personnel, and two Naxalites (Left Wing Extremists), while injuring another 97 persons, including 47 civilians and 50 SF personnel, in the current year (data till December 8, 2019).
Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on Left Wing Extremist (LWE)-linked violence, at least 1,432 incidents of IED explosion have been carried out by LWEs, resulting in at least 1,774 fatalities, including 508 civilians; 1,137 SF personnel; 89 Naxalites (LWEs); and 40 unspecified, while another 2,078 persons sustained injuries, including 712 civilians; 1,253 SF personnel; 56 Naxalites; and 57 unspecified. The highest number of such incidents were recorded in 2009, at 187, resulting in 182 fatalities; including 36 civilians; 128 SF personnel; and 18 Naxalites, while another 221 persons sustained injuries, including 64 civilians; 145 SF personnel; one Naxalite, and 11 unspecified. However, in terms of casualties, 2010 was the worst year. At least 388 fatalities, including 200 civilians; 177 SF personnel; two Naxalites; and nine unspecified, and another 295 injuries, including 208 civilians; 71 SF personnel; one Naxalite, and 15 unspecified, were recorded in 149 IED explosions in 2010.
An overview of the geographical distribution of IED explosions suggests that the maximum of 362 such incidents were reported from Chhattisgarh, followed by Jharkhand, 312; Andhra Pradesh, 236; Bihar, 228; Odisha, 172; West Bengal, 64; Maharashtra, 44; Telangana, six; and two each from Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Kerala. One incident was reported from Madhya Pradesh.
Incidents of IED Explosion: 2000*- 2019**
|States||Number of incidents||Killed||Injured|
Source: SATP, * Data since March 6, 2000, **Data till December 8, 2019.
The use of IEDs by the Maoists is intended to inflict high casualties on SF personnel on patrol/combing operations. During operations, small SF contingents pass through inhabited areas and are targeted with these devices, hidden underground or in bushes, on national highways, important State roads and near SF camps. The use of mines helps the Maoists avoid engagement in any direct conflict with SFs. Further, these IEDs are often used to administer a first shock, when the Maoists take on large contingents of SFs deeper in the forest, when the rebels engage state Forces in exchanges of fire.
In the worst ever IED attack targeting SFs, on April 6, 2010, the Maoists first blew up the SF’s anti-landmine vehicle and then fired indiscriminately, killing at least 75 CRPF personnel and a State Police trooper in an ambush at Chintalnad’s Tarmetla village near the thick Mukrana Forests of Dantewada District in Chhattisgarh.
Significantly, in the 13 months and four days, since November 5, 2018, when Nambala Keshava Rao aka Basavaraj (63), assumed the top post of ‘General Secretary’ in the Maoist hierarchy, at least 52 incidents of IED explosion by the Maoists have been reported (data till December 8, 2019). These incidents have resulted in at least 41 fatalities (15 civilians, 24 SF personnel and two Naxalites) and 100 injuries (48 civilians and 52 SF personnel). During the preceding 13 months and four days, 53 such incidents were recorded, which had resulted in 47 fatalities (six civilians, 40 SF personnel, and one Naxalite) and 72 injuries (one civilian, 67 SF personnel, one Naxalite, and three unspecified).
Evidently, both the number of IED incidents and related fatalities have come down since Basavaraj took over the mantle. Basavraj, an expert in explosives and military techniques, was believed to be more easily inclined to violence and ‘military operations’, including the use of IEDs. Basavaraj had replaced the preceding CPI-Maoist ‘general secretary’, Muppala Lakshmana Rao aka Ganapathy (71), on November 5, 2018.
Though no surge is evident in the use of IEDs, under the new leadership, the Maoists are increasingly relying on IEDs. According to a May 8, 2019, report, the intelligence wing of the Andhra Pradesh Police disclosed that, unlike in the past when new recruits were given extensive training in handling weapons such as .303 Lee Enfield rifles, 12 bore guns and SLRs [Self-Loading Rifles), the senior leaders are now training young recruits in making and detonating IEDs.
Moreover, in a September 19, 2019, report, CRPF, Deputy Inspector General (DIG), Moses Dhinakaran, observed,
The Naxals are now not getting into one-to-one battle with forces as their combat strength has depleted along with their weaponry and ammunition. The sustained operations by the CRPF and other forces have surely taken a huge toll on them. They are hence looking to hit the security forces through IEDs, which ensures that they do not have to face the forces.
Meanwhile, reports indicate that Maoists are now focussing on the use of Cordtex, detonating cord generally used in mining, in the making of IEDs. A small quantity of Cordtex can have a huge impact when used in IEDs; is easily available and can trigger IEDs containing as many as 250-300 locally made bombs in one go — a phenomenon given the deceptively appealing name, ‘daisy chain’.
Crucially, the Maoists continue to get easy access to explosives. According to Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)’s latest Annual Report 2018-19, the SFs recovered at least 9,822 gelatine sticks; 16,795 detonators, and 1,724.22 kilograms of explosives, just between January 1, 2018, and March 31, 2019.
This is in spite of the Government taking several measures to control access to explosives, including a programme to improve awareness of existing rules and processes:
On the initiative of Ministry of Home Affairs, Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization (PESO) has sensitized the District Magistrates (DMs) and Superintendents of Police (SsP) of 35 worst LWE affected districts about the compliance of Explosives Rules, 2008 and Ammonium Nitrate Rules, 2012.
Nityanand Rai, Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs, informed the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of the Indian Parliament) on June 26, 2019, that the CRPF presently had 27 Bomb Detection and Disposal Squads (BDDS) covering Jammu & Kashmir, LWE-affected areas and other parts of the country. However, in a September 19, 2019, report, an unnamed Chhattisgarh-based officer, acknowledged,
We do not have gadgets or equipments that can detect a hidden IED in all cases but vulnerable areas have been mapped and an extensive drive is on to seek these bombs out and destroy them in a controlled manner.
IEDs consequently remain an urgent concern for the security establishment and for the Government. Attada Babujee, Superintendent of Police (SP), Visakhapatnam District, Andhra Pradesh, disclosed, on May 8, 2019, “The Maoists have some senior leaders such as Tech Shankar and Tech Kiran, who are experts in making and innovating IEDs.”
Further, on August 26, 2019, the Union Home Minister (UMH) Amit Shah, while assuring State Governments that the Centre would cooperate fully in eliminating LWE, emphasised that innovative measures were needed to prevent IED incidents that had caused significant casualties in recent years.
Regardless of the overall declining trend in Maoist violence across the country, the rebels continue to inflict a significant toll, particularly on the SFs. Easy access to explosive materials makes it unnecessary for them to engage in high-risk direct confrontations with the State’s Forces. An effective and coherent policy to curb access to these deadly materials is necessary if the continuing haemorrhaging of the State’s fighting personnel is to be stanched.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management