The 80-km stretch from Dornapal to Jagargunda is a death trap for CRPF - the latest casualties being 25 jawans of the 74 Battalion. Men deployed for road opening patrol (ROP) for construction of a portion of the road were killed by at least 300 Maoists, who had laid an ambush.
Sources said the cost of this road has been very high - one soldier per month. But this year, it has already cost more. Only a few days ago, 12 soldiers were killed in Bheji, 20 km away from the site of Monday's massacre.
As per CRPF sources, Jagargunda was expanded into a major government-backed settlement during the Salwa Judum movement, a controversial programme in which state authorities tried to shift villagers from the forests into fortified camps.
HISTORY OF BLOODSHED
The area was also a hotbed for cattle smuggling, but remained more infamous as a Maoist bed. The area has seen a history of bloodshed perpetrated by Maoists and has been the focal point of some of the fiercest encounters between security forces and Naxals since 2006.
The Maoists cut off all three access roads (via Vijaypur, Aranpur via Dornapal, and Chintagufa) leading to Jagargunda, virtually converting it into a landlocked and inaccessible island. All roads, bridges and culverts were either destroyed or blown up by IEDs.
On being cut off, Jagargunda could be accessed via a 100-km detour running southeast from Kuakonda to Dornapal via Sukma along NH-221. From Dornapal, the travel required another 70 km past the CRPF camps at Polampalli, Kankerlanka, Chintagufa and Chintalnar.
While no intelligence of the impending attack was available, CRPF sources say movement of soldiers was known to all, including Maoists and villagers, as they were assisting in road construction - a painfully slow process as contractors fear for their lives due to threat from the Reds.
Former CRPF DG Durga Prasad told MAIL TODAY, "The road construction is costing us many soldiers. The Naxals are aware that soldiers would assist in ROP duty." However, many blame the government for not paying attention to recommendations.
Such mishaps also drive more fear in the minds of contractors, thus delaying projects further. A senior officer, who returned after serving in Dantewada, said that a 20-km road from Palnar to Aranpur took four years to complete. Suspecting IEDs and other tactics, construction of a cemented road began in January 2012, and could be completed only in January 2016.
Sources say the area is a stronghold of South Bastar divisional committee headed by one Raghu, and is under the Jagargunda area committee led by Papa Rao. They are considered among the most formidable leaders that Maoists have been able to create in the region. Moreover, the area has a People's Liberation Guerrilla Army platoon, three local operating squads and one local guerrilla squad. Sources also say an IAS officer named Alex Paul Menon, who was posted as collector of Sukma, was abducted for a fortnight in 2012 for overseeing road construction here.