Boots burnt in family backlash, 350 troops twiddle thumbs in Maoist belt
Calcutta, April 2: Centuries after Napoleon realised that an army cannot march on an empty stomach, Bengal can now look back and complain: Bonaparte, you didn't mention the boots.
A rebellion-fuelled shortage of jungle regulation boots has forced about a third of the Counter Insurgency Force in Jungle Mahal to be kept in reserve.
Nearly 350 jawans of the force lost their boots in the Salua barracks when it was set afire by the family members of Eastern Frontier Rifles (EFR) personnel after a clash on March 1.
A senior police officer said the police directorate at Writers' Buildings released about Rs 70,000 for the boots on Friday. "It will take another couple of weeks to get the ordered boots from the suppliers," he added.
The CIF jawans had to flee their West Midnapore headquarters on March 1 after the clashes. While fleeing, a source said, they managed to take their weapons but left behind their jungle boots. "They were wearing sneakers when they fled. Since then, they are sitting idle at the Midnapore police lines," the source added.
The CIF jawans are trained to combat Maoists and other insurgency groups in dense forests. They are provided with jungle boots to walk on forest terrain and undulating surface. Without the boots, they cannot be deployed in the jungles, the officer said. (See graphic)
"Since the jungle boots are a must during operations and patrolling, we have no option but to keep the personnel in reserve," said another CIF officer. The contingent "sitting idle" is about a third of the unit exclusively prepared for jungle warfare.
A CIF jawan explained why jungle boots are mandatory for operations in deep forests.
"The jungle boots are part of our uniform and they play an important role when we enter the forest. These boots are flexible and help us walk on uneven surface. They help us walk through bushes full of thorns. The sole is soft but tough and we can walk without making any sound. We feel very comfortable in these boots," a CIF jawan said.
After the CIF jawans fled Salua on March 1, the EFR agitators ransacked their two barracks, pulled out their beddings and set them on fire. "It was in this fire that most of the jungle boots were either destroyed or damaged," the officer said.
According to sources, though the Maoists have been "cornered" in the state after the death of rebel leader Kishan, a number of them are still camping either in the forests or in villages on the outskirts of these jungles.
"We have specific information that Maoist guerrillas are still active in the forest areas of Belpahari, Bhulabheda, and Banspahari. The absence of 350 jawans of an armed force makes a difference. It affects the operation against the rebels," an officer said.