NEW DELHI: Thousands of undetected landmines in the Maoist belt are proving to be a major stumbling block for security forces as they step up operations against the extremists, pushing them on the back foot in many places.
Detecting these mines is difficult, say officials, as the underground bombs are laid quite deep, much beyond the detection capacity of the equipment being used by security forces.
“Since no equipment in the world market can detect landmines deeper than three feet, the presence of a large number of deep landmines – which could well run into thousands – has become a real threat”, said a senior security official who is linked to anti-naxal operations.
He said the Maoists had virtually mastered the art of keeping themselves ahead of whatever new gadgets the forces procure, be it mine protected vehicles or landmine detecting equipment.
The substantial presence of iron in the soil of most Maoist-affected states including Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh also lessens the effectiveness of landmine detection equipment. Since these equipment generally detect bombs by monitoring metal content, the detectors let out a lot of false alarms due to the iron in the soil.
Union home ministry figures show nearly 90% of the casualties (41 out of 46) among security personnel this year were from landmines blasts like the one reported from Gadchiroli in Maharashtra on Tuesday. Security personnel have, of late, eliminated a number of naxals in ambush situations, forcing the rebels to use landmines against forces.
Officials here said that though the issue of not adhering to the standard operating procedure (SOP) while on an operation or road-opening duties has been a matter of concern, it is not always possible to move on foot leaving vehicles behind.
“Security personnel also love their lives. They in most cases would not like to take a dangerous course unless it is urgently needed for an operation or for quick road-opening jobs”, said an official.
Even in Tuesday’s incident, 40 security personnel were travelling in a bus from Pushtola to Gatta in Gandchiroli in Maharashtra. As per SOP, they were supposed to move on foot taking non-metallic side lanes. It seems, official said, they were over-confident of their decision to use vehicle thinking that the area had been cleared of landmines.
Shortly after the blast, CRPF chief K Vijay Kumar, who was on official tour of the area, called up Union home secretary R K Singh and briefed him about the incident. “Two helicopters were pressed into service for taking the troops to hospitals”, an official said, adding a CRPF reinforcement team besides men from the Maharashtra’s anti-naxal force was rushed to the attack site.