PURULIA/PATAMDA/SHIRKA: More than 24 hours after the landmine blast on the mud-tracks along Shirka forest near the Purulia-Jharkhand border, the bomb disposal squad was yet to reach the spot, delaying investigation. Located between the villages of Gangamanna and Shirka, some 85 kms from Purulia town, the area has been a target of Maoists for a long time.
Even around 3.00 pm on Monday, Bandwan OC Gautam Bhattacharya had no clue when the bomb squad would arrive. "There is no information when they will reach," he said. Police did not even remove the wreckage. Raids carried out by the local police, BSF, CISF and Jharkhand Police have yielded no results.
Early on Monday morning, the six injured BSF jawans - P R Nehru, Pradip K Singh, B C Lakhani, Swarup Singh, Suresh Singh and Anil Singh - were flown to a Kolkata hospital. "The basic treatment was done at the Bandwan Primary Health Centre and then they were brought to the Purulia Sadar Hospital. The facilities here are not enough to treat them and they have been sent to Kolkata," said Purulia district magistrate Dipak Kar.
The only jawan who died in the blast, 45-year-old Ali Akbar Sheikh, was a resident of Jammu & Kashmir.
The poll officials on duty at Shirka had left and the BSF jawans travelling in a Tata 407 were returning to Purulia town when the explosion took place. The impact was so strong that the engine and other parts of the vehicle were torn apart and a five-foot-deep crater was formed at the site.
The Purulia district police blamed BSF for the explosion. "We had warned the CISF and BSF troops that are patrolling the area to move only on the metalled road as the mud tracks are not safe. But they ignored our warning," said Purulia SP Ashok Prasad.
CPM state secretariat member Manindra Gope blamed the police for the blast. "The Maoists had targeted Shirka. We had told police about this. They should have been more vigilant," he said. Many local CPM leaders, including Gope, are on the Maoists' hit-list.
Villagers on both sides of the Jharkhand-West Bengal border have no sympathy for the jawans either. For the last four days, they were facing repeated assaults by the jawans, they alleged. "Four days ago, BSF jawans came to our village looking for the Maoists. When we couldn't tell them anything, they started hitting us," said Ratheswar Kumbhakar, a resident of Shirka.
The villagers don't feel the Maoists did anything wrong by targeting the BSF team. "What they did is justified. The armed guerrillas never disturb us. Rather, they helped our men to quit alcohol," said Niyati Kumbhakar, a Shirka resident.
The police, too, admit that the hostility of the villagers makes it difficult to carry out raids against the Maoists. "It is very difficult to get any information from the villagers," said a senior officer.