SALBONI (West Midnapore), 2nd Nov: West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and state industries minister Nirupam Sen narrowly escaped an ambush by Maoists at Salboni in West Midnapore district on Sunday. The cars of the CM, Sen and the Union ministers Ram Bilas Paswan and Jitin Prasada had passed the spot a couple of minutes earlier. An IED blast snapped a high tension electric wire and riddled a police car with shrapnel and pellets, injuring six policemen.
Sunday's incident came only a week after Maoists killed three persons, including a doctor, at Belpahari in the same district. "As the whole area is Maoist-dominated, we are eliminating all other possibilities and zeroing in on them," IG (law and order) Raj Kanojia told newspersons. West Midnapore SP Rajesh Singh said, "Modus operandi suggests that it is the handiwork of Maoists." They were all within earshot of the blast. The ambush has left police shell-shocked since this entire zone had been cordoned off. All the six injured policemen were tailing the car of Union minister of state for steel Jitin Prasada. Some of them suffered head and chest injuries. The high tension wire swished around after being snapped by the force of the explosion and could have been devastating, but it luckily didn't hit any other vehicle apart from the police jeep. Even these occupants escaped electrocution.
Bhattacharjee, Paswan, Prasada, Sen, MP Naveen Jindal and industrialist Sajjan Jindal had gone to Salboni for the foundation laying ceremony of the proposed Rs 35,000-crore integral steel plant in the Maoist-affected area. They were returning to Kolkata when the blast took place at Kalaichandikhal, about 12 km from the plant site, between 2.10 pm and 2.15 pm. It was hardly 10-15 minutes since the leaders had started from Salboni.
The first car in the convoy was that of Congress leader Manas Bhunia. Next in line were cars of Bhattacharjee, Sen and Paswan. The police vehicle (WB 62 5647) that was hit was right behind Jitin Prasad's car. It had escort officer Ranjit Mondal, two constables, two security guards and a driver. "I heard a loud explosion. A split second later, something fell on top of the vehicle. The windscreen and windows shattered. I suddenly felt pain. Everyone in the car was bleeding and moaning. We had no clue what had hit us," said Rabindranath Mahato, a guard who was injured. Prasad's car had passed the spot seconds earlier and it came to a screeching halt. On seeing what had happened, Prasada's bodyguards asked the driver to speed off to Kalaikunda airbase where an aircraft was waiting for them.
Several other vehicles carrying CPI(M) supporters stopped 200 metres behind the shrapnel-riddled jeep as injured policemen staggered out. Drivers got scared on seeing branches lying on the road. Maoists are known to plant landmines on the roadside and cover them up this way. Some CPI(M) cadre went to help the policemen and that is when they saw the high-tension wire lying across the road. No one dared to take another step. Two policemen had reportedly been posted at the spot — close to Bhadutala jungle, a Maoist den — but were nowhere to be seen when the blast happened. The first police team arrived 20 minutes later. The substation at Kerani Chati was asked to switch off power and only then could ambulances and rescue teams arrive.
The injured are Ranjit Mondal, constables Kartik Maity and Alokava Chowdhury, security guards Judhishthir Mahato and driver Mukul Phulmali. Mandal, Mahato and Phulmali were taken to Kolkata for treatment. The rest were admitted to Midnapore Medical College and Hospital. Bhattacharjee, however, remained in Midnapore town till late in the afternoon to attend some programmes.
"I have heard about the incident, but am yet to get the details from the police. The perpetrators will be identified and brought to justice," the CM said. Fifteen locals have been detained for questioning by police.