As many as 19 women, including a commander, are among 37 Maoists gunned down in two pitched battles by the Maharashtra Police in the forests of the state's Gadchiroli in the past 48 hours, eliminating at least four top commanders and virtually shattering the backbone of the rebels, a top police official said here on Tuesday evening.
State Additional Director-General of Police, Operations, D. Kanakratnam said that in the first gun battle on Sunday, the elite CRPF C-60 force's Battalion No. 9 commandos succeeded in ambushing a Maoist force of around 40-50 persons and there was continuous firing for nearly three hours before a complete lull.
"Thereafter, the security forces mounted a search in the battle-zone and found 16 bodies of slain Maoists, including seven women, after the gunfight in the Kasnasur area of Bhamragad in the district. Late on Monday, there was another encounter in Rajaram Khandla area of Jimalgatta in the district, in which six Maoists were killed, including four women," he told a packed media conference.
Late on Monday and early Tuesday, as part of the search operations, the security forces came upon bodies of 15 Maoists floating near the banks of the Indravati River on the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh borders, taking the total toll to 37.
These 15 Maoists are said to be from among those who managed to escape into the forests during Sunday's gunfight and subsequently succumbed to their bullet injuries while attempting to cross the river.
"We have so far identified around 16 of the rebels and work is underway to identify the rest. Overall, among those identified, they carried a combined reward of Rs 10.06 million on their heads," said Kanakratnam.
The operation - the biggest in the anti-Maoist war since the past over 38 years - saw the elimination of at least four prominent commanders, and dealt a body blow to their rebellious activities in the district.
"The killed include the south region chief Srikant alias Ravtu Vijendra, 50, known as Srinu, besides the commanders of the Aheri, Gatta and Permili dalams (Maoist fighter units), including a woman chief, a deputy commander and prominent members of various groups," Kanakratnam said.
The dalam commanders have been identified as Dolesh Madi Atram alias Sainath (Permili), Mangli Pada alias Shantabai, 31, (Aheri), the wife of Srinu (above), Naresh Kutke Yeladi alias Raju/Ramesh, 29, (Gatta), and Vasudevo Bichha Atram alias Nandu, who is the Aheri dalam's DVC (killed in the Monday night battle).
Police officials surmise that the Aheri and Sironcha dalams have been totally wiped out in the two-day operations which claimed four out of five of their top leaders.
Besides the bodies, police have also recovered a cache of sophisticate arms, including two AK-47s, two INSAS, three SLRs, three .303s, one 58 mm gun, eight 12 bore rifles, a musket, pittus and detonators, besides Naxal literature from these operations, said Additional DGP (L&O) Bipin Bihari.
Search and combing operations continue, though interrupted by heavy rain and bad weather, in the entire Gadchiroli district even Tuesday, said an official this evening.
The twin victory leading to elimination of 37 Maoists was celebrated with no-holds barred dancing and merrymaking by the security officials in the past couple of days.
The district is among the worst affected by the Maoist insurgency. It has been virtually sealed off by the security forces, as they stalked the Red rebels in the jungles, villages, hills and valleys to snuff them out from their deep hideouts.
Other Maoist-affected states in the neighbourhood like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana have gone on a state of high alert ever since the state security forces here launched their biggest and most crushing anti-Maoist operation in almost four decades.