SOURCE: INDIA TODAY
Harmless looking wooden boards studded with long nails have been giving the CRPF serious cause for worry in the Maoist-infested jungles of Chhattisgarh. Over the past few months, several troopers have had their feet impaled by 3-4 inch long nails. The boards are buried in holes roughly a foot deep dug along jungle trails used by the Maoists in their jungle strongholds. Troopers stumbling into these traps find rusted nails slicing through the rubber soles of their light jungle shoes, and through muscle and ligaments of their feet.
“The wounds inflicted do not kill but spreads fear among the troopers, immobilises them and slows down operations,” says a source. The Indian Army has had experience of these ‘punji sticks’–sharpened bamboos or stakes concealed in holes and ditches–for decades.
The CRPF, confronted with it more recently, simply call them spikes. Injuries are aggravated by the added weight of backpacks, and the arms and ammunition carried by the troopers. The exact number of such cases is not known but are believed to be in the hundreds over the past three years. A dozen such ambushes have been reported from the CRPF’s counter-guerrilla COBRA units over the past year.
The increase in these traps mirrors the surge in counter-Maoist operations launched by the security forces since 2017 in the core areas occupied by the extremists. On February 4, 2020, minister of state for home G. Kishan Reddy told the Lok Sabha about the “sustained offensive intelligence-based operations that were being continuously executed” as part of Operation Prahar in the core Maoist areas of the Bastar range, southern Chhattisgarh, since 2017.
Close to 40 CRPF battalions have been engaged in counter-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh. Many of these battalions are operating near the core areas, regions believed to shelter the political and military leadership of the banned CPI (Maoist). IED ambushes are not unknown—one COBRA officer was killed and seven others injured in an IED attack on November 27 in Sukma. But these are few and far between. Nail board traps offer a far cheaper and plentiful solution for impeding the security forces.
Such traps shot to prominence during the Vietnam War (1955-75) where they were among the various non-explosive improvised booby traps and punjis planted by Vietcong guerrilla forces. India’s Maoists have woken up only recently to using such traps.
“The security forces should keep their eyes and ears open– they should be moving along ridgelines and not on roads and jungle paths. Sniffer dogs can also be used for clearing tracks,” says Brigadier B.K. Ponwar (retired), director of the Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College in Kanker, Chhattisgarh.
Last December, the CRPF put out a challenge for indigenously developed ‘shoes against spikes’ on the startupindia.gov.in website run by the Department for Promotion of Trade and Internal Industry (DPIIT). The CRPF’s problem statement called for the development of terrain agnostic shoes to protect against hidden iron/ bamboo spikes causing fatal injuries to troops. The CRPF and Startup India shortlisted 16 start-ups to solve what it calls the ‘core challenges’ in the security sector. Besides the shoes against spikes, the CRPF has identified start-ups to provide solutions for medical kits to control blood loss and effective utilisation of drones. Different products from 10 companies were tested over the past year (shoes and inserts) but they failed the field trials. A Delhi-based start-up, Tactical Design Labs, has now passed field trials for the anti-spike shoes conducted by the CRPF and Chhattisgarh state police this December. An indigenous solution seems to be at hand.