Pressure mines may not be lethal, but can certainly decapitate a person. On February 7, 2018, one personnel of the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) was injured in a pressure mine blast in Chhattisgarh’s Narayanpur district, near Dhanora. For over more than a decade, Naxalites of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), Maoists in in short, have been widely deploying pressure mines, especially in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region, as well as in other parts where they operate.
Speaking on May 16, 2006, the then district police chief of Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, said: “These mines will kill anyone who steps on them. The mine doesn’t distinguish between a policeman and a civilian. It is also for the first time in the country that the Visakhapatnam police have unearthed pressure mines.”
The intended target is security force personnel on patrol. While on duty, the fear of a blast constantly lurks in his mind and he has to be very cautious while walking; this is a distraction. If he is careless, he might get injured and lose a limb permanently; occasionally he may also die. An injured security force personnel is more expensive for the state as it raises the cost of fighting the rebels; the injured person has to be tended to and a replacement found.
Besides, innocent civilians and cattle have also been victims of pressure mines. During a visit to Bastar some years ago, this author met a school teacher, Triveni Devangana, in Narayanpur who had been injured by a pressure mine. The teacher was riding her moped very near the school when a pressure mine got triggered a mere three feet away from her.
The mine had been planted adjacent to a bore well with a view to target security forces personnel who normally halt there to quench their thirst. But a young cattle-herd had found the device and it exploded when he began fiddling with it. Devangana lost sight in the right eye, suffered partial damage in the left eye and received severe burn injuries in the face.
A mother of two children and a Sahitya Ratna in Hindi, her family of modest economic means spent Rs 1.1 lakh for her treatment. The Maoists did not even care to ‘apologise’, which they do occasionally, when innocent civilians fall victim to their violence. It is sad and abhorring that the unintended targets of Maoist violence have often been civilians and innocent, speechless, animals. On a number of occasions, cattle grazing in the forest have been killed or injured in pressure mine blasts. There is no count of the number of cattle killed in these incidents.
Typically, a pressure mine is made by placing TNT or other explosives in a small, spherical container and attaching a blasting cap at the top of the container. The size of the blast depends upon the size of the container and the amount of explosive material packed inside. Pressure bombs are made with readily available materials and can be simple or complex; it all depends on the fabricator’s choice. “These bombs are easy to conceal.
They are planted just below the surface of the earth. The pressure that a person would exert when he or she steps on it accidentally, while walking normally, is all that is needed to trigger-off an explosion.”, a senior Superintendent of Police told this author during an interview in July 2007.
The Maoists have gone a long way in indigenously and ingeniously fabricating weapons. Lately, they have developed crude rocket launchers that are not accurate but have “nuisance value”. Their arsenal now consists of a melange of weapons-4,000 regular and another 6,000 country made. These include sophisticated weapons such as SLRs, AK series rifles, INSAS rifles looted from the security forces, and weapons such as tapanchas that they have fabricated in their production units.
While the Maoists have beaten a tactical retreat, they are still a formidable force with an estimated 4,000 armed underground cadre spread across 106 districts in 10 States. The core is still intact. While some members of the apex and all-powerful Central Committee have been arrested, killed in encounters, or surrendered, the Central Military Commission, presently consisting of six members, which guides all armed activity, is intact. (A seventh member Jinugu Narasimha Reddy alias Jampanna surrendered to the police on December 22, 2017).
Therefore, there can be no room for complacency. The government’s four-pronged approach of security, development, public perception management and ensuring the rights and entitlement of local communities needs to be implemented earnestly and, more importantly; its monitoring has to be rigorous.