Maoists struck in Gadchiroli district of the state on Thursday afternoon, killing 16 police personnel, including an inspector, a sub-inspector, and five women constables.
This is the first time that women constables in Maharashtra have become victims of a naxal attack.
All the police personnel were posted at Dhanora police station. The incident took place at Hattitola between Erkad and Murumgaon on the busy state highway linking Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh.
According to sources, naxalites had called for a bandh on Wednesday and Thursday. The police party led by inspector Ashok Iyer was conducting foot patrolling around 3:30pm when it came across a roadblock. When the team began removing the trees lying across the road, more than 100 naxalites hiding in the forest along the road opened fire. They also blew up a police vehicle that was following the team.
Among the dead were Iyer, sub-inspector Shantaram Ghorpade, assistant sub-inspector Bhaktadas Shettiwar, constables Suresh Kirange, Vilas Mandade, Manik Usendi, Sadanand Naitam, Hemraj Tembhekar, Suresh Durge, and Kashinath Rohankar. The women constables were identified as Gendkuvar Faredia, Alka Gawade, Shakuntala Alam, Shobha Nade, and Sunita Kalo. One constable is yet to be identified.
A police source said the roadblock was a trap for the team. After the encounter the naxalites fled with the weapons belonging to the police party. Turn to p7
Gadchiroli's superintendent of police Rajesh Pradhan rushed to the spot with reinforcements, but it was too late. It is learnt that information about the ambush could not reach the headquarters at Gadchiroli as wireless sets were not functioning owing to heavy rainfall in the area.
The source said inspector Iyer was earlier posted with the Nagpur (rural) police and served as senior inspector at the Kalmeshwar and the Bhivapur police stations. He was transferred to Gadchiroli on request last year.
The state government announced that combing operations would be stepped up in all the naxal-infested areas of Vidarbha. "We will intensify combing operations in the region," home minister Jayant Patil told reporters. "The operations were in progress after a similar attack earlier this year claimed the lives of 15 policemen, but several security personnel were later deployed for election duty."
Meanwhile, state director-general of police SS Virk said the inspector who led the 16-member team had not informed any senior officers before setting out and could have been lured into an ambush by the insurgents.
This is the most brutal Maoist attack in the state and the second this year. On February 1, at least 15 security personnel were killed in an ambush in the same sub-district, Dhanora.
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