The attack came when the CRPF jawans were guarding an under-construction road.
"The two roads being built in Sukma are not only strategically important but also crucial for the people living in this inaccessible region," Special Director General of Police (Anti-Maoist operations) DM Mr Awasthi said. These roads are of great importance to win the war against the rebels in Sukma, he added.
Sukma district, in the southernmost Bastar division, lies near the junction of three states - Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra - with Maoists dominating the region through an extensive network of "janatana sarkar" (people's government) units coupled with guerrilla fighter battalions.
The Maoists fear that construction of roads will speed up movement of security forces and development projects in Bastar region, thereby uprooting them, Mr Awasthi said. He said road connectivity would help villagers, mostly tribals, to avail the benefits of government schemes and directly connect them to the administration.
"Maoists do not want these roads to be laid. Therefore they launch attacks on security forces and damage roads, vehicles and machines used in construction works," Mr Awasthi said.
The road being built from Dornapal on National Highway-30 to Jagargunda, one of the most sensitive areas inside the forest, is 56 kilometres long. An 8-kilometre-long stretch from Dornapal to Gorgunda has been completed. The remaining 48-kilometre stretch, being built by the Police Housing Corporation (PHC), is under construction.
The road, which starts from Dornapal, reaches Jagargunda while passing through Gorgunda, Polampalli, Kankerlanka, Puswada, Temelwada, Chintagufa, Burkapal, Chintalnar and Narsapuram villages, Mr Awasthi said.
This strategically important route has five police stations, besides paramilitary camps at 11 other locations to protect the construction project that costs Rs 122 crore, he said. Similarly, the under-construction Injram to Bhejji 20-kilometre-long road is also considered a strategically important route in the Maoist hinterland of Sukma.
Injram, situated on Sukma-Konta road, is a patch on NH-30. The first 7 kilometres on this route is being built by the Public Works Department. The cement-concrete laying work on the first 4 kilometres has been completed.
In the remaining 13 kilometres being built by the PHC, cement-concrete work has been completed up to 7 kilometres, he said. This road is being built at the cost of Rs 35 crore. The Maoists have inflicted maximum causalities on security forces in Sukma region, particularly in the area close to these two roads.
Before the April 24 attack near Burkapal village, several big attacks took place in this region. On March 11, at least 12 CRPF personnel were killed in a Maoist attack in Bhejji area. Some 76 security personnel were killed in a Maoist ambush in Tadmetla in 2010, seven Special Task Force men in Pidmel in 2015, and 14 CRPF personnel in 2014 in Kasalpada, a pattern that shows the dominance of Maoists in the region.
Chhattisgarh Home Minister Ramsewak Paikra said the construction of these two roads is vital for the development of Sukma as well as to take on the Maoists. "We are determined to develop Bastar region through various schemes and projects, but Maoists do not want the benefits reached to tribals," Mr Paikra said. "The construction of roads in Sukma is indeed very crucial."
The road construction work in the region has gained momentum in the past couple of years and simultaneously the operations of security forces have also increased in the Maoist stronghold, Mr Paikra said.
"The Maoists are disappointed with these developments and the recent attacks on security forces are a result of their frustration," the home minister said.
A senior police official, posted in Bastar, stressed on the need for breaking the influential Janatana Sarkar network of Maoists with development projects in Sukma. The two recent attacks on the CRPF have once again raised questions over the plan and action in this area which had earlier too seen a number of Maoist ambushes, said the officer who declined to be named since the matter was private.
The quadrilateral patch of Sukma, from Dornapal to Kistaram, and Bhejji to Jagargunda on Golappalli track, serves as a haven for Maoists. The area not only helps the rebels in moving across Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Maharashtra through Chhattisgarh, but also for their guerrilla warfare training amid the dense forests and inaccessible terrain, he said.
The Maoists have spread their base in the forests of Sukma in the past three decades. It will take time to reclaim the region in their heartland, he added. "Sukma is one of the highest militarised districts in the country with deployment of over 10,000 personnel there. But along with deployment, the need is to strengthen the intelligence network and we are making serious efforts in this direction," the police officer said.