New Delhi: Naxals have been dealt a big blow in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra. At least 16 extremists, including two top divisional commanders and seven women, have been gunned down by the elite C-60 commando force of Gadchiroli.
Maharashtra Police have termed the operation as the most successful one by any force in Dandakaranya — the liberated zone comprising of Naxal affected districts in Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra.
"This is one of the best operations in the last 38 years since the Naxal problem began," an elated IG Naxal OPs (Maharashtra) told News18.
As per Gadchiroli police, the two-day-long operation led to the death of at least two Divisional commanders of CPI(Maoist) — Srinivas alias Sinu alias Vijender and Sainath.
Srinivas (51), is a resident of Warangal, Telangana and was wanted in 82 cases of murder, abduction and loot. On the other hand, Sainath was a Gattepalli village in Aheri taluka of Gadchiroli and was the local face of the Maoists. He had joined the Maoists in 2004 and was wanted in 75 cases of murder, abduction etc.
Both Srinivas and Sainath were members of the Divisional Committee of CPI(Maoist), a top decision-making body of the Naxals.
Sources said the two were leading a group of around 60 Naxals from Telangana to Gadchiroli and stopped on the banks of Iravati River in the Tadgaon forest of Bhamragad. Tadgaon is about 750 km from Mumbai and is considered to be a Naxal stronghold. Police believe the Naxals were travelling to extort money from tendu patta dealers. "At this time of the year, Naxal platoons move from Telangana to Gadchiroli for extortion. Tendu patta dealers are mostly their target," a top officer told News18.
Preliminary information suggests that the platoon stopped for rest and breakfast. Tadgaon is on the Chattisgarh-Maharashtra border with Indravati River separating Bijapur in Chhattisgarh from Gadchiroli in Maharashtra. Police say they first surrounded the Naxals and warned them to surrender.
"We had a specific tip-off about the group’s movement in the area. A combing operation was launched on Saturday. On Sunday, between 10 and 11 am, the Naxals started firing and our boys retaliated killing many," IG Anti Naxal ops Sharad Shelar told News18.
Sources said two parties of Maharashtra Police's elite anti-Naxal force C-60 were dispatched to Tadgaon. Each party had about 30 highly trained commandos. Firing began from the Naxal side leading to an hour-long gunfight. “We have not lost any men. It was a successful operation," SP Gadchiroli Abhinav Deshmukh told News18.
The last of the reports said that Police were carrying the Naxals’ bodies to the nearest Tadgaon Thana. Helicopters had been pressed into service to reinforce the forces on the ground where mobile connectivity is poor and hence information outflow is patchy.
Maharashtra police suspects that the number of Naxals killed will go up since at least 60 Naxals were part of the group. "Rains and nightfall forced us to stop looking for more bodies but our operation will resume tomorrow," said SP Abhinav Deshmukh.
The operation is being hailed by the police as next only to the one launched by Andhra Pradesh's Greyhounds, who killed 24 Naxals in Odisha’s Malkangiri in 2016.
Union Home Ministry officials, while not getting into the numbers game, conceded that the operation was good. “The operation by the Gadchiroli police and its C-60 unit was one of the best in recent times. C-60 is now second only to greyhounds in terms of capability and success," a MHA officer, who was in charge of the Naxal division, said.
C-60 was set up as an anti-Naxal force in 1992 by then Gadchiroli SP, KP Raghuvanshi. In recent times, they have had a lot of success in making Gadchiroli Naxal free.
This is the third big success for Gadchiroli police in last few weeks. On April 4, the force arrested five Naxals who were allegedly planning to blow up a weekly market in the district. On March 28, five Naxals including two couples surrendered. The interrogation of the arrested and surrendered Naxals provided police with valuable intelligence about Naxal presence and movement in the area.