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No electricity, no phone, this Bihar police station has only God to thank

No electricity, no phone, this Bihar police station has only God to thank

Author: J P Yadav
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: February 25, 2008
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/story/276765.html

Each day, when Sub Inspector R L Thakur gazes at the setting sun falling behind the hills facing his police station, he shivers. The gathering darkness raises the fear of a roar from these very quiet hills - the roar of gunfire and the spectre of a Naxalite attack. Staring at the steady fire in the community kitchen, he whispers, "SLRs or carbines won't be effective from that distance. But they can shoot us down using an LMG (Light Machine Gun) from the hilltop." And Thakur knows very well that the Maoists have LMGs in numbers even he cannot comprehend.

The vulnerability of Banke Bazar police station is something that everyone here is aware of. Understandably so, as it is located just on the brink of the region beyond which the outlawed Maoists hold fort. Every man in uniform here acknowledges that the writ of the state is limited to a radius of just 3-4 km around the police station though its jurisdiction spreads across a radius of 15 km. "Beyond that, we hardly tread," says a Bihar Military Police (BMP) jawan.

Ironically, this sense of fear is all-pervading despite the fact that Banke Bazar is among the best-equipped police stations in the Naxal heartland of Bihar. It has a strength of 20 jawans (16 constables and four head constables) of the BMP armed with SLRs and carbines. The police station on the Sherghati-Imamganj state highway has a concrete building, two watch towers and a fortified boundary wall. The compound houses the headquarter of BMP-1 where at any given time 20 "Gurkha" jawans stand guard.

But consider these:

o For the past two months, the police station has remained in darkness as the kerosene generator is out of order and there's no mechanic to repair it.

o Availability of electricity is less than two hours a day.

o There is only one jeep for the entire station. Even this gives up as maintenance cost is difficult to get.

o The phone line of the station lies disconnected for the past four months due to non-payment of bills.

o The officer-in-charge does not have an official mobile and uses his private set for communication.

o Wireless set is in working condition but charging its battery becomes difficult due to lack of power.

o The police station does not have any anti-landmine vehicle or mine-detecting devices. The only hope in case of a Naxal attack rests with the CRPF camp 15 km west at Imamganj on the same road.

As darkness descends, the hills across the road that run into Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh loom like ghosts. By 7 pm, all shops in this market down their shutters, men in uniform get inside the police station. Two Gurkha jawans rush to take positions atop the two watchtowers. A third paces up the two-storeyed building where BMP jawans are housed while a fourth takes position behind the sandbags at the entrance. The driver runs and brings the police station's lone vehicle, a jeep, from the roadside to the "safe zone" inside the police station. Others get to the routine business of lighting kerosene lanterns and two cooks start the kitchen fire for dinner.

As the jawans wait for food, a car screeches to a halt outside the police station. The sentry at the gate shouts: "Halt... Kaun Hai" and takes position with the SLR. Two people step out of the car and reply "Dost" (Friend). Inside, jawans waiting for dinner panic and then relax after the two people identify themselves as prominent locals and say they want to meet the officer-in-charge. They leave after a few minutes of conversation.

"At night we don't take chances. Anyone passing the police station is asked to halt and identify. The sentry at the gate, on the watchtowers and the rooftop are vigilant throughout the night. With God's grace we have not faced any attack so far", says SI Thakur (40) who was posted to this police station in November last year. His tenure here is for two years while BMP jawans get transferred every three months. Thakur lives here alone while his wife and children reside in Muzaffarpur.

Fighting the Naxals isn't top of the mind. The Nitish Kumar government has so far not gone all out against the Naxalites, maintaining that an all-out offensive won't help solve the problem. Kumar himself has said several times that he is concerned about development in Naxal-affected areas since lack of development is at the root of the problem.

When contacted IG (Operations) S K Bhardwaj acknowledged that despite some improvement, police stations still have a long way to go to counter the Naxalite terror. Asked in particular about the lack of basic infrastructure at Banke Bazar police station, Bhardwaj blamed the state Home and Finance departments for delaying sanction of projects. "These departments take a lot of time to sanction projects. But in recent times, the situation has improved and the results will soon be visible on the ground," he told The Indian Express.

Bhardwaj said the topmost item on their agenda was to fortify all police stations in the Naxal-affected regions. "Money has been shifted to the Police Building Construction Department and work will start soon. We are also getting assistance under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) from the Centre," he said.

"The new focus areas of the Naxalites are the plains of north Bihar bordering Nepal and the situation is becoming grave each day," he said.

For now, the orders are loud and clear: "protect your life first and then arms and ammunition". Not surprising since every Naxal attack is aimed at looting arms and ammunition. "There is no night patrolling. Even during the day we don't step out in their territory without a posse of CRPF men," said Thakur. In the entire block, spread over a radius of 20 km, there are only two police stations. Police pickets set up earlier were withdrawn after Naxals began striking.

Given the lack of any infrastructure, police have adopted what they call a "practical approach": don't meddle in Naxal affairs. Local villagers say how even after reports that Naxals held "kangaroo courts," the police have refrained from carrying out raids. "How can we? They plant landmines that can blow us and we don't have the means to detect them," says a police officer. The one silver lining here is that normal law and order problems like murder, loot and abductions are almost non-existent. "In 2007, only two cases of petty robbery were lodged. In 2008 so far, two thefts and one murder have been recorded," said Thakur, adding that Naxals settle most of the disputes related to land and property and don't allow petty criminals to thrive.

So every night that passes here without an incident is attributed to God's grace.

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