India: The Maoists And Their Mines

Three Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel were killed when the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres triggered a landmine explosion targeting a vehicle carrying the ITBP personnel near Kohka village in the Rajnandgaon District of Chhattisgarh on October 8. The landmine was planted under a culvert just yards from the Kohka Police Outpost. Earlier, on October 4, a landmine blast triggered by the Maoists killed five Security Force (SF) personnel at Perimili in the Gadchiroli District of Maharashtra. On October 5, the Maoists triggered a landmine in the Talewada Forest area of Gadchiroli, injuring eight SF personnel, who were part of the rescue team travelling in an anti-mine vehicle from Pranhita headquarters at Aheri to Perimili, to retrieve the body of a Policeman killed on October 4.

These are only the latest among an endless and increasingly effective series of landmine and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks executed by the Maoists over years. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), 442 persons have been killed while 422 have received injuries in a total of 380 incidents of landmine explosion by the Maoists since 2005. 52 of these incidents were major (comprising of three or more than three fatalities).

The two worst-affected States, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, together account for 329 (74.44 per cent) of these fatalities. However, Orissa (79) has witnessed the highest number of landmine incidents, followed by Jharkhand (78) and Chhattisgarh (78). Explaining the gravity of the situation in the State, the Director General of Chhattisgarh Police Vishwa Ranjan stated, on May 9, 2010, "Bastar region is spread over nearly 40,000 square kilometres area, of which up to 25,000 square kilometres is intensively mined." Abujmadh in Chhattisgarh, which forms the Central Guerrilla Base Area of the Maoists, is secured by a complex system of landmines and IEDs throughout this densely forested expanse of some 4,000 square kilometres.

The Maoist use of landmines against the SFs has wide variants. Small contingents of SFs passing through inhabited areas are targeted with mines placed under the road surface, and triggered without the militants engaging in any direct confrontation with the Forces. When they take on large contingents of SFs deeper in the forest, however, landmines are used as a first shock, before engaging the troops in gun battles. Significantly, in the country’s worst Maoist attacks on April 6, 2010, in which 75 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and a State Police trooper were killed in an ambush in the thick Mukrana forests of Dantewada District in Chhattisgarh, the Maoists were aware of the CRPF movement and executed their attack with fierce precision. They first blew up the SF’s anti-landmine vehicle and then began firing indiscriminately. The shocked and exhausted troopers had failed to follow standard operating procedures, and were massacred. Similarly, on February 9, 2010, an SF contingent was hit by a landmine and then ambushed by Maoist cadres at a village in Dantewada District, when they were on a search for 12 missing tribals in pursuance of a Supreme Court order passed on February 8.

Some of the major incidents of explosion orchestrated by the Maoists against SFs include the following:

April 4, 2010: 11 personnel of the anti-Maoist Special Operation Group (SOG) were killed and eight others were seriously injured when cadres of the CPI-Maoist triggered a landmine blast targeting a mini bus carrying the SOG personnel at Tanginiguda on the Govindpalli Ghat road in Koraput District of Orissa.

June 20, 2009: 12 CRPF personnel were killed in a landmine blast triggered by the CPI-Maoist cadres at Tonagapal in Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh.

June 12, 2009: CPI-Maoist cadres detonated a landmine in the Nawadih area of the Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh, killing at least 11 SF personnel and injuring eight.

June 10, 2009: 11 Policemen, including a CRPF Inspector, were killed and six were injured, when CPI-Maoist cadres triggered a landmine explosion targeting their vehicle in West Singhbhum District of Jharkhand.

May 11, 2009: 12 Policemen and a civilian were killed and seven others injured in a landmine blast triggered by the Maoists at Risgaon village in the Dhamtari District of Chhattisgarh. The incident took place when the Maoists blew up a Police vehicle carrying the Police personnel.

August 30, 2008: 12 Police personnel were killed when the vehicle they were travelling in was blown up in a landmine blast in the East Singhbhum District of Jharkhand.

July 16, 2008: CPI-Maoist cadres killed 17 personnel of the Special Operations Group (SOG) of the Orissa Police in a landmine blast in the Malkangiri District.

November 2, 2007: Around 100 cadres of the CPI-Maoist ambushed a Police party near Pamedu Police Station in the Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh and killed 16 Policemen, including six CRPF personnel. The Maoists first triggered a landmine explosion and then indiscriminately fired on the Policemen killing 16.

December 2, 2006: 14 Police personnel belonging to the Special Task Force of the Jharkhand Police were killed and three injured in a landmine blast detonated by suspected CPI-Maoist cadres at Kanchkir in the Bokaro District.

June 1, 2006: At least 12 Police personnel were killed when CPI-Maoist cadres triggered a landmine explosion in the West Singhbhum District of Jharkhand.

September 3, 2005: 23 CRPF personnel and two from the State Police were killed in a landmine explosion triggered by the CPI-Maoist near Padeda village in the Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh.

January 5, 2005: CPI-Maoist cadres killed the Munger Superintendent of Police, K.C. Surendra Babu, and six Police personnel in a landmine explosion near the Bhimbandh area of the District in Bihar.

The Maoists have also used landmines and IEDs against civilian targets. Some of the most significant of these incidents include:

August 3, 2010: Five persons of a private security agency travelling by a car were killed when CPI-Maoist cadres blew up a culvert with a landmine near Pirtand in Giridih District of Jharkhand.

April 16, 2009: Five poll officials, including a zonal officer identified as A.K. Acharya, were killed and many others injured when CPI-Maoist cadres blew up a van ferrying election officials by triggering a landmine blast at Phulwera village in the Rajnandgaon District of Chhattisgarh.

May 16, 2006: In a landmine explosion triggered by the CPI-Maoist, 12 members of a marriage group were killed between Halebada and Patha villages in Gadchiroli District of Maharashtra.

March 25, 2006: 11 persons were killed and four others sustained injuries in a landmine blast triggered by the CPI-Maoist in Kanker District of Chhattisgarh.

February 28, 2006: At least 25 tribals were killed and 40 others sustained injuries in a landmine blast triggered by the CPI-Maoist near Eklagoda village, in the jurisdiction of Arabore Police Station of Dantewada District in Chhattisgarh.

A wide range of improvised devices, including camera flashes, wires, switches, holders, batteries and cell phones have been used by the Maoist to rig explosions and, as Dantewada Superintendent of Police (SP) Rahul Sharma, notes, "landmines are the Maoists’ favourite weapon." A June 18, 2010, report by the office of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, submitted to the UN Security Council, noted: "The Naxals [Maoists] have admitted that children… were provided with training to use non-lethal and lethal weapons, including landmines."

The Maoists bury their landmines even under concrete roads, in addition to placing them under kacha (non-metalled) roads. Unsurprisingly, the Union Government on October 28, 2009, had warned that incidents of landmine explosions, ambushes and train blockages would increase.

The constant and greater degree of use of landmines by the Maoists in their fight against the establishment has become a major concern for the authorities. To counter this, according to a November 24, 2007, report, the Jharkhand Police decided to form motorcycle squads arguing, "In jungles, Maoists detonate vehicles by triggering landmine blasts. But it will be difficult to blast bikes." But this is, at best, a shot in the dark. Chhattisgarh Police DGP, Vishwa Ranjan, on May 9, 2010, notes, "The big problem is, we have no technology and resources to de-mine the massive forested pockets. Without taking out landmines it's literally impossible to go after them (the Maoists) freely in thickly forested areas where Maoists are always ready with a booby trap."

Ajit Kumar Singh, Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management