The Central Reserve Police Force has submitted a detailed report to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs identifying the lack of intelligence, poor leadership on the ground, low morale and a lack of adequate training the led to the loss of 25 personnel in a Maoist ambush in Chhattisgarh on April 24.

The report was submitted this week and comes after detailed deliberations and investigations by the CRPF. According to senior officials in the CRPF, the investigation has also made detailed recommendations and could lead to changes in leadership at the middle level in Chhattisgarh.

The findings are also critical of the role played by the state police, which was tardy in its response to the attack, and has virtually disappeared from the troubled areas.

Key factors

For years, the CRPF has struggled with the lack of intelligence in Chhattisgarh. With nearly 28 battalions in the state, this is one of the biggest CRPF deployments against the Maoists. But most of the battalions have been reduced to guarding forces, since the lack of intelligence has cripple their ability to carry out offensive operations.

On April 24, when the CRPF set out to guard the Burkapal-Chintalgufa axis, the Maoists were already tracking them. Contrary to media reports, the force was not attacked during lunch time, but at 11.30 am, when they had split into three groups of 31-33 personnel. However, there was no intelligence from either the Intelligence Bureau or the local police of a major Maoist build up. In fact, had such intelligence been generated, the CRPF would have started planning an offensive operation. However, with no advance warnings, the CRPF men were slaughtered by nearly a 150-strong force from the Maoist guerrilla squads.

Chhattisgarh has constantly struggled with the lack of intelligence against the Maoists. The support from a central intelligence agency such as the Intelligence Bureau has also had diminishing returns, and it is believed that officers from the Indian Police Service are not keen to serve in the state on deputation. As a result, the current Intelligence Bureau head in the state is from the Indian Postal Service, on deputation to the Intelligence Bureau for many years. Although acknowledged as a seasoned hand, he has been serving for over three years now.

The site of the attack, in Sukma district. Photo credit: IANS.

The report also pointed to the lack of leadership on the ground. While the inspector was also killed in the ambush, evidence now points to his inability to marshal his men properly and counter the ambush, the inquiry suggested. The men were completely surrounded and the Maoists used innovative area weapons that are capable of large-scale destruction, with devastating effect. The CRPF cadre officers are generally older and therefore unable to perform as well as their younger counterparts. The senior echelons of the force is dominated by the IPS officers who come on deputation, with many of them having never served in the force as operational commanders.

The inquiry was also unhappy at the role played by the local police. Law and order is a state subject, and the local police is expected to play a leading role in countering the Maoists. Unfortunately, there inquiry found a lackadaisical approach from the police , which could have emboldened the Maoists to carry out the attack.

Finally, the lack of morale and adequate training seems to have been other factors that led to this massacre. With the CRPF stretched to its capacity, carrying out a variety of roles, training seems to have taken a major beating. Unlike the Army, which has battle inoculation establishments for every new unit coming into a counter-insurgency area, the CRPF has no such dedicated facility. While it has several training institutions, it is unable to cope up with the current demand, and has had to split its training courses. This has also led to troops being posted in Chhattisgarh for long intervals with neither training nor adequate facilities. With poor living conditions and lack of basic services, morale seems to have been quite low.

Searching for solutions

Depending on what the Union home ministry accepts, chances are that a few middle-level commanders might be changed on ground, according to people in the ministry. However, they agree that this might not help matters much.

So far, the CRPF’s leadership has sought the role of some experts with experience in counter insurgency operations to help them at the tactical level. While the CRPF’s experience with the military has not been successful, they are hoping to get some guidance from officers who have had experience in Kashmir and the North East as company commanders.

The senior leadership also agrees that fixing the training is urgently needed to ensure that the men are ready for combatting the Maoists.

However, while these can be addressed internally, the CRPF’s top brass continues to be worried about the complete lack of intelligence in the state. Severely hobbled by poor intelligence, the CRPF is unable to take an effective offensive or defensive posture. Intelligence-based Operations have virtually dried up, and the inability to use technology has also hobbled the force. Two dedicated Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, piloted by National Technical Reserach Organisation personnel from Jagdalpur in Bastar district have failed to yield any major results. The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles that the CRPF has, are indigenously designed by Defence Research and Development Organisation and have very limited flying time. This renders the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles virtually useless.

After the Sukma attack, the CRPF has once again gone into a defensive mode. At a meeting held in the home minister, senior CRPF officials have stated that the local police will now have to take the lead in generating intelligence and carry out operations. The CRPF will now only play a supporting role, and will keep themselves with guarding their camps, until they get a more active response from the state police. Ironically, the focus of the government’s statements on the Sukma attack so far has been on blaming human rights activists rather that focussing on the crucial operational gaps that continues to dog a belaboured force.