Maoists on March 27 set-off a high intensity landmine blast in Gadichiroli, Maharashtra, killing 12 Central Reserve Police Force personnel, and injuring 28 more. The CRPF team was traveling on a bus and was said to be on an area domination exercise.
Similar incidents involving the killing of security personnel in landmine blasts were reported in the past, too, in various Maoist-dominated areas in different states. Moreover, Mine-Proof Vehicles were targeted, resulting in a large number of fatalities.
Over time, the lethal capabilities of the Maoists have been expanding owing to concerted efforts to indigenously and ingeniously design and manufacture weapons and IEDs. In fact, the arrest of Sadanala Rama Krishna alias Dokra alias Santosh and his associates in Kolkata, on February 29, and the simultaneous seizures in raids in Kolkata, Mumbai and Raipur has, for the first time, brought to light the vast network that the Maoists have established for weapons research and development and manufacture across the country.
Sadanala is a mechanical engineering graduate (BTech) from the National Institute of Technology, earlier known as Regional Engineering College, Warangal, which was once a hotbed of radical activities, and had for a few years contributed cadres to the Naxalite underground in hundreds.
The story of the Maoist R&D efforts dates back to 1989, when a Technical Team was formed to manufacture 12 bore weapons, grenades, butts and barrels for .303 rifles. In 1994, a Technical Development Committee was constituted under Sadanala. Owing to deficiencies in its functioning, it was dissolved and a Central Technical Team was formed, in 2001, with the status of a State Committee with a view to ensuring better coordination among the various teams entrusted with the design and development of modern technical equipment.
The CTT functioned directly under the supervision of the Central Military Commission and all decisions regarding development of technology and equipment were taken centrally. In 2005, the CTT was renamed as Technical Research and Manufacture.
Besides the design and development of modern equipment, it was entrusted with, among others, the task of producing spares, documenting and distributing technical literature through reading relevant literature like books and magazines, extensive use of the Internet, transfer the technology it developed to Technical Units spread across the country and the assembling (production) units operating in the forest areas, in each of the guerrilla zones.
The Technical Units functioned/continue to function in eight states — Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. TRAM/Technical Units have, until now, designed and manufactured artillery pieces, rifle parts, SBBLs, rockets and rocket launchers, directional mines, claymore mines, pressure mines, pin grenades and booby traps.
The modus operandi of the Maoists in manufacturing equipment is, indeed, ingenious. They get fabricated knocked down kits with each part made to order in bulk inseparate foundries/industrial units. These are then sent through private road carriers/transporters to the assembly units located in the forests, especially in Bastar and Maad, in Chhattisgarh.
This modus operandi first came to light in September 2006 when police in Mahabubnagar and Prakasam districts of Andhra detected and seized a huge consignment of empty rocket shells and rocket launchers. Thereafter, raids were conducted in the Ambattur industrial estate, on the outskirts of Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Subsequently, on September 17, Thota Kumara Swamy alias ‘Tech Madhu’ was arrested in Warangal, AP. His interrogation brought to light the vast network the Maoists had established for the production of rockets, which spread across five states.
These rockets and rocket launchers were manufactured in two stages codenamed as Rocket Launcher-I and Rocket Launcher-II.
Rocket Launcher-I was a ‘pilot project’, which had been tasked with the design and manufacture of 25 rockets with launch stand/pad at a cost of Rs950/per rocket. In fact, five rockets each were distributed to Anantapur, Guntur and Nallamala, Andhra Pradesh.Five more were tested in the Nallamala forests, Andhra Pradesh, and five others were set aside for further modifications.
Rocket Launcher-II was a project tasked with the development of shoulder-mounted rocket launchers & rockets. Following testing and modifications, Tech Madhu was entrusted with the task of getting these manufactured at Chennai. He was asked to get manufactured 1,600 rockets and 40 launchers. But, Tech Madhu could manage the manufacture of 1,550 rockets and 40 launchers and they were distributed to various areas across the country.
While some of them were seized in the September 2006 raids, some others found their way to various destinations, including North Coastal Andhra Pradesh and Bastar. Tech Madhu was given Rs35 lakh for implementing the entire plan. According to an internal document of the CPI-Maoist, the rebels have been using these rockets as an Area Weapon rather than as a Target Weapon.
Thus, the Maoists have come a long way from fielding farm implements and country made weapons, and snatching weapons from the security forces. It is this technical improvisation that has led to the recent spate of chilling massacres of security force personnel across the country. Possibly, they would further tone up their technical and manufacturing skills in the near future, which would be even more worrisome.