Sukanta Debnath, a North 24-Parganas youth who chose railway police over the BSF assuming trains were less risky but was killed in a suspected Maoist attack yesterday, was shot from “close range” inside a compartment, police said today.
Some eyewitnesses had said yesterday that Sukanta, 22, a Railway Protection Special Force (RPSF) constable, was killed while pursuing suspects who got off the Dhanbad-Patna Intercity Express after the train was brought to a halt.
There was initial confusion over the home of Sukanta but it has been confirmed that he hailed from Gopalnagar in North 24-Parganas.
“The information with the police is that he was shot inside a non-AC general compartment of the train. His body was sent to Howrah today. It now seems that a rebel had entered the compartment and shot him,” superintendent of police (rail) Amitabh Das said today. He added that the wounds indicated Debnath “was shot from close range”.
This account, coupled with another assessment that said the attackers were not targeting passengers and the two of the three who died might have got caught in the crossfire, suggests that Sukanta was picked out and killed, possibly for his firearm. However, another guard whose gun was snatched survived.
Lakhisarai superintendent of police Rajiv Mishra said things would be clearer once Sukanta’s post-mortem report comes.
Yesterday afternoon, around 100 suspected Maoists ambushed the express in Bihar’s Jamui, 250km from Patna. The others who died were a sub-inspector who was on his way to join duty and a finance company executive.
Rail police superintendent Das said: “Passengers were caught in the crossfire between the forces and the Maoists. The rebels did not intend to kill any passenger. Their motive was to loot arms. There have been no reports of passengers being looted.”
However, some passengers had said yesterday looting did take place.
The Maoists took away two guns — an Insas and an AK-47 assault rifle.
The other RPSF jawan whose firearm the Maoists snatched has lodged a police complaint in Lakhisarai district.
In Gopalnagar, Sukanta’s family said he had preferred the RPSF to the BSF as he had felt the first was safer. His family said he joined the RPSF a year ago.
Sukanta’s father Ratan Debnath, a farmer in his late fifties, said: “He was my only son. He had cleared both the RPSF and BSF exams. He had told us that he wanted to take up the RPSF job as it involved less risk.”
“He had told us that if he chose the BSF job, he would have to travel to border areas and there might be skirmishes. He thought the RPSF was safer,” said Ratan, a resident of Chak Chouberia village in Gopalnagar.
Sukanta’s mother Bina, 54, fainted after she heard the news of her son’s death yesterday. She has not spoken since and neighbours are trying to comfort her.
Ratan said he still could not believe that his son was no more. “I knew my son’s job involved risks. But the way he was killed is unacceptable. How can so many people attack and kill a lone constable?” he said.
Sukanta’s elder sister Sumana, 30, has come to Gopalnagar with her eight-year-old son from her in-laws’ home in Nadia’s Chakdah.
The constable’s uncle, Ganesh, said: “We received a phone call around 4pm yesterday from a senior RPSF officer. He initially said that my nephew had fallen ill while working. We called up some of Sukanta’s colleagues. They informed us that he had been injured during an assignment.
“We saw on TV the report on the Maoist attack in Jamui. We knew he was working in that sector and suspected something was wrong. We called up another senior RPSF officer, who told us that Sukanta had died.”
Two youths from Chak Chouberia had started for Jamui last evening but turned back midway after the RPSF informed the family that the force had made arrangements to bring the body to Gopalnagar.
“My nephew was due to come home before Puja. He had planned to take his father for a medical check-up as he suffers from breathing problem,” Ganesh said.
Raids drew a blank
Police had received intelligence inputs about a possible attack in the Jamui-Lakhisarai region and carried out raids in forests and villages in the area but did not have any clue about a 100-strong Maoist team camping there.
Government Railway Police (GRP) today held a meeting with officers of the Railway Protection Force and Birbhum police to find ways to step up security in trains bound for Jharkhand and Bihar and along the tracks.
The officials are planning to double the armed escorts to four in Jharkahand and Bihar-bound trains.