New Delhi/Raipur: The lack of a comprehensive security plan and a neglect of safety procedures allowed a group of well-armed Maoists to massacre 24 people, including top Congress leaders, in Chhattisgarh on Saturday evening, a preliminary government review reveals.
Sources said instead of planning security at a senior level for the Congress' parivartan yatra being held in sensitive areas, security arrangements were left to individual police stations.
The elite National Investigation Agency or NIA have begun investigating the attack. This is the first Maoist assault that the agency is probing. (Read)
"There have been some security lapses otherwise such a major incident would not have taken place. We have asked the NIA to investigate the whole case. If there have been any lapses from the central forces or the state governments, the buck will have to stop somewhere. Punishment will be meted out to anyone who has led to such kind of tragic incident in Chhattisgarh," said RPN Singh, Minister of State, Home.
At the site of the attack, dominated by a five-metre-deep crater caused by a landmine blast, water bottles and banana peels strewn around could have been signs of a picnic in shade of the woods that line the National Highway 221, except that there is also shattered glass and bullet holes in windshields, the mangled remains of a vehicle that was thrown 20 feet away by the blast and patches of blood, where the police conjecture senior leaders like Mahendra Karma and Nand Kumar Patel were shot dead. (Watch: NDTV Ground Zero report)
Standard security instructions provide that political leaders must not travel together through Naxal-dominated areas in a single convoy. Yet on Saturday evening, almost all the top leaders of the Congress' Chhattisgarh unit were travelling in the line of 25 cars. Only former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, who travels by helicopter after a crippling accident some years ago, was not there.
The leaders also ignored another basic security rule - they travelled back by the same route as they had come.
Tribal leader Mahindra Karma, who led the controversial Salwa Judum anti-Naxal movement in the state, had survived an assassination attempt last year. (Watch: Why Mahendra Karma was on Naxals' hit list) He had Z-plus or the most advanced security and was well-versed with standard operating procedures on safety. (Read: The life and politics of 'Bastar Tiger' Mahendra Karma)
From the ground it appears, however, that there were also lapses by the security infrastructure that made it easier for the Maoists to strike.
"It was just a basic security cover. No comprehensive plan. 'Thanas' are informed whenever the yatra passed through a particular area. It does not work that way for such political activities," a security official admitted. There should have been enough intelligence about the area and the Maoists there, if the yatra was to pass through it, "but it seems, there was no such arrangement," he said. (Read: How the Naxals ambushed the Congress convoy)
In such regions, the police are supposed to sanitise roads and surrounding areas an hour before an important movement. However, there are reports that the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) had reportedly done this only three to four hours before.
That time reportedly allowed about 250 suspected Maoists, well-armed, to position themselves at the ambush site in the Dharma valley close to a forested area and ambush the convoy when it drove past on a long, narrow single road.