“Sir, when is your Lima?” asked Comdt Sanjeev Kumar on the hotline from RHQ Manpur. In typical ITBP code language the word Lima stood for “left”.
“Sanjeev, it is exactly at 0600hrs. Keep our boys and K9 squad comfortable in the ROP cum ADP, since it is too hot”, replied DIG S S Harta, the Sector Commander of ITBP in Chhattisgarh (presently IG SS Harta is posted to Ops/Int/Vet Dte).
DIG SS Harta (now IG) was visiting COBs (company operating base) of Manpur Unit to boost the morale of troops for a Sanik Samellan and be debriefed on the Naxal activities in this highly sensitive sector.
The DIG had a light breakfast of golden brown toasts with a film of thinly spread Amul butter and chewed it slowly with frequent sips of cool namkeen jeera lassi. It was his routine to have this patented lassi to keep cool in the tropical heat of Chhattisgarh.
He was on his way to COB Sitagaon that was the gateway to another COB Madanwara to the left and COB Aundhi, straight ahead. To reach this COB one had to pass the cross-roads bypassing COB Khoka, that is on the right turn from this notorious ‘chauraha”.
Being a wily commander in this deadly cat-and-mouse game of anti-naxal operations, he started exactly at 0600hrs and the unsurprised driver, very familiar with his tactics, turned the vehicle on the opposite direction towards Bhilai and after taking a confusing detour, he hit the highway towards COB Sitagaon bypassing RHQ Molha and COB Panabaras. This was to confuse any naxal spotters. “Never do anything that is expected by the adversary” was DIG’s time-tested dictum.
After crossing COB Panabaras, all his troops were on full alert. DIG Harta was carrying his AK-47 with two full magazines taped to each other for a quick change-over during firing. He had his thumb on the safety catch.
It was a routine for him to stop his convoy to speak to the ITBP troops in ROP and joke with them. There was a famous saying in ANO that when DIG Harta passed any ROP, he left the troops laughing with his quick witted jokes. Sometimes he would pat the head of a PEDD (patrol explosive detection dog) Malinois and speak to his handler. Even dogs felt happy to meet DIG Harta, whenever he stopped to meet the ROP troops.
By the time he reached Sitagaon, the sun was spewing hot flames, even though it was only 0930 hrs.
A scorching day. If you break an egg on the road, you would get a single fry for breakfast, and you could enjoy it with ‘red’ tomato sauce. But there was no red tomato sauce to enjoy, but a different kind of red. Red terror with rivers of red blood that had drenched the soil dull red due to this protracted left wing extremism.
The sainik samellan of DIG Harta (now IG) was as usual filled with witty jokes with the troops that would make a sailor blush, but this was necessary to reduce the tension levels and stress in this area. Listening to loud laughter from ANO troops during his sanik sabha was a routine occurrence. He always asked the jawans, “TPC ho gaya?”. And they used to answer laughing, “Yes sir, TPC mein dil khush ho gaya!!”. For those who are unfamiliar with this term, it means ‘Tel Pani Change”. I will not explain anything more. All it means that the jawan went on leave and spent a happy 60 days with his wife and kids.
After the briefing in ops room the DIG told the Comdt that he was ready to leave. He had to travel on the very same road he had arrived.
The Vehicles and escort were ready. The DIG was in the Ops room minutely studying the map for future operations and sipping his jeera lassi with Comdt Sanjeev and his officers.
Comdt Sanjeev, a veteran officer who was an alumni of JNU, said, “Sir, your convoy is ready”
DIG Harta, sat down. He took another sip of butter milk. He didn’t respond. He closed his eyes. The Comdt and officers watched their DIG going into a meditative state for exactly 60 seconds. It was as if he was in a trance and had attained a higher alpha wave brain activity.
Slowly DIG Harta (now IG) opened his eyes and said in a calm and composed tone, “No Sanjeev, lets launch the ROP again”
The Inspector who was in the ops room said, “Sahib, ROP abhi close hui hai aur bahut garmi hai”.
The Adjutant intervened and said, “Sir, troops are tired and the temperature is approaching nearly 47 degrees. Please reconsider, sir”.
DIG Harta once again repeated in a cold calculated commander’s voice, “I said, launch ROP again”
Another officer said, “Sir, but ………..
The DIG stopped him short and said in a determined tone, “Which part of the orders didn’t you understand. Launch ROP again. Period!!”
Comdt Sanjeev Kumar gave the orders to launch the ROP cum ADP again at exactly 1230hrs when the sun was at its peak.
On orders of their CO, the troops once again got ready to sanitise the 14Km long road. The K9 wing with the Malinois dogs were ready to go once again with their handlers, as they had finished their feed with electrolyte solution to prevent heat stroke.
All troops were given an electrolyte drink and they marched out of the Sitagaon gate and turned right towards the sinister long black narrow road that was staring at them like a black snake. There was an eerie silence. Not a single bird was seen in the skies. No villagers were seen on the roads. Zero civilian vehicles were seen.
DIG Harta waited in the Ops room with other officers. He offered some cooler jeera lassi from his personal flask to all officers. All of them sipped in silence, listening to the creaking ceiling fan that was making more noise than circulating air. The air was so thick with humidity that one could slice it with a butter-knife.
One hour passed. The wireless suddenly crackled. The CO conveyed the message to the DIG that the combined efforts of troops with dogs had recovered 2 IEDs.
The wireless crackled again. No it was not 2 but 6 IEDs.
The wireless sputtered once again. “Sahib, it is not 6 but 20 repeat 20 IEDs that had been discovered by the ITBP ROP”
By God, 20 IEDs have never ever been recovered by any Force on a single road in one day. The biggest haul ever.
DIG Harta, ordered that he would like to go and see for himself.
Lo and behold, there were 20 IEDs placed at the base of all tree trunks on either side of the narrow road within a span of just 400 meters. A big bang was to welcome the ITBP convoy.
The Naxals had indeed planned to not only finish off our DIG SS Harta (now IG) but had planned to kill more than 100 brave ITBP troopers who would have surely come as reinforcements on hearing about the causality of DIG Harta and his convoy. They had planned to ambush the entire Sitagaon Company of around 100 men with more than 2000 naxals just waiting for the IEDs to go off and massacre the disoriented troops. The IEDs were placed at the base of tree trunks as the Naxals were certain that we would take cover behind trees during an attack. What brains!! But the Naxal commanders didn’t expect bigger brains in ITBP.
The Naxal think-tanks sitting at Raipur and New Delhi munching on chicken tikka, had planned a blood bath for ITBP and the very same sympathizers at JNU were getting ready to celebrate their victory like they did for the Dantewada CRPF tragedy.
But they did not know the sixth sense of IG SS Harta along with the troops of Comdt Sanjeev, a JNU alumini, would nullify their nefarious designs.
After this the name of DIG S S Harta ( now IG ) and Comdt Sanjeev were part of the Naxal literature on how not to waste Naxal resources on this highly trained force with commanders who had a sixth-sense like like a Zen expert.
The date of this massive tragedy would have been 23 May (23 May), if not for the intuitive thinking of ITBP commanders.
This is a peep into a day affair of IG SS Harta, ITBP, who retires from service just yesterday. Mr. Harta, recipient of President Police Medal for his distinguished service in ITBP belongs from Rohru of district Shimla. Harta, in his exemplary service, had headed Anti Naxal Operations in the highly sensitive Rajnandgaon district in Chhatisgarh especially along the Chhatisgarh –Maharastra Border and was instrumental in effective operational planning and execution of anti-naxal operations, which has yielded significant results.
For his immense contribution to the Force, he has been awarded with 43 appreciation and 7 commendations medals which include Antrik Suraksha Seva (J&K)-2002, UN Medal, Ops Vijay, 50th Independence Anniversary Medal, Police Special duty Medal, Indian Police Medal for meritorious service etc.
Note: A fellow serviceman Sudhakar Natarajan, DIG (Vet) ITBP, on the eve of retirement of SS Harta, has shared a befitting tribute (Hearty Harta’s Sixth-Sense) to a nation hero…