PTI, RAIPUR/NEW DELHI: Two policemen and a cameraperson of Doordarshan were killed and two others were injured in a deadly Maoist attack on Tuesday in naxal-affected Dantewada district of poll-bound Chhattisgarh where voting is scheduled next month.
Two naxals were also believed to be killed in retaliatory action by the security forces after the ambush in a forest area near Nilawaya village, around 450 kms from here, the police said.
While naxals have given a boycott call for the elections, voting is scheduled in the area for November 12 in the first phase of the state assembly polls.
The incident took place at around 11 am when a squad of local police was carrying out patrolling on motor cycles from Sameli camp towards Nilawaya on Tuesday morning, Deputy Inspector General (anti-naxal operations) Sundarraj P told PTI.
A three-member team of Doordarshan was travelling for election-related news coverage at the same time and was caught in the cross-fire, he said.
In the attack, Sub Inspector Rudra Pratap Singh, Assistant Constable Mangalu and DD News Cameraman Achyutanand Sahu were killed, Sundarraj said.
Sahu had come from New Delhi for coverage of Assembly elections to be held next month, he said.
Sahu's colleagues in the national capital described him as a go-getter with a penchant for challenging assignments, as a pall of gloom descended on the newsroom of the public broadcaster as reports of his death came in. Several of his colleagues recalled how the 34-year-old would make them smile with his light-hearted quips.
Other two members of the DD team, including a journalist, were safe, the police officer said.
Constable Vishnu Netam and Assistant Constable Rakesh Kaushal sustained injuries in the gunfight, he added. The injured have been admitted to Dantewada district hospital, he said, adding that if required, they would be airlifted to Raipur for further medication.
Political parties across the spectrum condemned the attack while the Congress termed the Raman Singh government in the state as "incompetent and worthless".
The Editors Guild of India urged law enforcement agencies in the state to provide necessary security to media professionals, particularly when they are covering elections.
The first phase of polls covering 18 constituencies of eight naxal-affected districts Bastar, Kanker Sukma, Bijapur, Dantewada, Narayanpur, Kondagaon and Rajnandgaon will be held on November 12. Some reports said the area where the attack took place was to vote for the first time as it has traditionally been naxal-affected, but there was no official word on this.
The remaining 72 constituencies will witness polling on November 20.
The counting of votes will take place on December 11.
D M Awashti, Special Director General (anti-naxal operations), said the exchange of fire between the maoists and security forces went on for about an hour.
The naxals then retreated into a village, with the security forces chased them, he said.
The security forces saw two people being dragged away by the maoists, which indicated that they were killed in the retaliatory action.
After the gunbattle, the security forces recovered 8 to 10 improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which were later defused, Awasthi said.
He claimed the attack was not linked to the upcoming Assembly elections but was aimed at discouraging men and contractors working on a road construction project.
"I would like to clarify once again that these two incidents -- one which took place this morning and another which took place three days back -- do not have any direct or indirect connection with the ensuing elections in the state," Awasthi said.
He said road construction work is underway at several places across the naxal-affected areas over the last three years and this attack was aimed at thwarting the workers and contractors.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore announced financial assistance of Rs 15 lakh to the next of kin of Sahu. He condemned the attack and said the insurgents won’t be able to weaken the government resolve.
Colleagues of Sahu, who was employed with DD News on contractual basis, wore black bands at work, even on air, to condemn the attack by Naxals. DD News Director General Mayank Agarwal said Sahu had done wide-ranging coverage of events outside Delhi and was always keen on doing challenging assignments.
Sahu's aunt said he had called her in the morning itself asking her to take care of his wife, a call he used to make regularly whenever on an outstation assignment.
Teams of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), Special Task Force (STF) and District Reserve Guard (DRG) were immediately rushed to the forest to trace the ultras, the DIG added.
On October 27, four CRPF personnel were killed and two others were injured when Maoists blew up their bullet proof bunker vehicle in Awapalli area of Bijapur district.
The next day, a BJP leader and member of Dantewada Zila Panchayat Nandlal Mudiyami was seriously injured after ultras attacked him with sharp edged weapons at his village Palnar in Dantwada.