By Bhudeb Chakrabarti
The monsoon set in quite early this time in the high hills of Mizoram. It was raining incessantly throughout the day and night in the middle of July 1986. Zemabawk, on the outskirt of Aizawl, was the location of CRPF headquarters. I was posted as DIG CRPF, responsible for overseeing the operations of all CRPF battalions deployed in Mizoram.
On 30 June, 1986, the Govt of India had signed a “Peace Accord” with the Mizo National Front (MNF) ending the two-decade old insurgency in the ”Land of the Highlanders”.
CRPF was assigned the mission to receive MNF cadres at designated places and take over their arms and ammunitions for handing over to the Army. Subsequently the MNF cadres were to be escorted to a Peace Camp “Remna Run” on a high ridge near Tui- Vamit-Tlang, a windy village, at one extreme end of Aizawl.
Parva and Marpara were the two earmarked places through which the MNF returnees were to enter Mizoram from Bangladesh and lay down their arms and ammunitions.
Aizawl, set on the ridges of steep hills is flanked by the lofty peaks of the beautiful Durtlang Hills.
A fair weather road connected Marpara with Aizawl. It was a narrow road, barely wide enough to let a single vehicle pass through, and involved grave hazards during the monsoon. The other place Parva was situated at one of the remotest corners on the tri-junction of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Unlike Marpara, there was no road connecting Parva with Aizawl, just a 55-kilometre narrow winding hill track, covered with dense jungles.
19th July was fixed as the D-Day for commencement of the operations, when the CRPF troops would start escorting the MNF personnel in batches from Parva and Marpara. Lunglei, an important town in Mizoram, was the tactical headquarter for our operations for Parva.
The operations started as planned. Notwithstanding the adverse conditions, the troops started their arduous trek. Walking continuously on the steep hill tracks in incessant rains, the CRPF men marched from Parva towards Lawngtlai with the MNF cadres. At Lawngtlai, they were to board vehicles for going to Aizawl via Lunglei.
The fury of the rains had increased adding to the difficulty of our troops. The track being fully covered with dense forest, the jawans had to cut through the deep foliage cover, at places, to move ahead. Two of the jawans fell sick in the inhospitable forest patch.
On the fifth day ie 23rd July, early in the morning at 5 AM, I received a radio message from Lunglei, with the news that two jawans were seriously ill at Vathuampui. Vathuampui was one of the transit camps on the mountain track between Parva and Lawngtlai. The jawans had high fever and their condition was so critical that they needed to be evacuated immediately.
I informed the Army and Air Force Formations and sought their help for urgent evacuation of the critically ill CRPF jawans by Helicopter.
After arranging for their admission at the Military Hospital Aizawl, I waited at the Zemabawk Helipad for the arrival of the Helicopter from Indian Air Force Base at Silchar. Silchar is located further on the north of Aizawl, across the Durtlang hills.
From the Helipad, I saw the hill ranges running parallel from north to south, separated from one another by narrow valleys and deep gorges.
The Helicopter arrived after some time, but by then clouds had started gathering. It was not long before dark monsoon clouds covered the entire sky and enveloped the surrounding lofty high hills. The cloud bursts were followed by torrential rains. The heavy rains with strong gusty winds continued unabated with no signs of giving up. There was no way in which the helicopter could take off. We had to return to our Head Quarter at Zemabawk for the night.
The heavy rains continued throughout the night till the next morning.
When the sky cleared up a bit by about 11 AM, we took off for Vathuampui to evacuate the jawans.
We flew over Tuirial River below Aizawl. Ahead of Tuirial River there were very high and steep hills. By the time we approached the hills, dark, thick grey clouds filled the sky. The IAF Pilot tried to steer clear of the clouds and forge ahead, but poor visibility made it impossible to advance further, and we were left with no other option but to return to Zembawk. Our second attempt to rescue the fatally ill jawans was aborted too.
At Zemabawk we waited patiently for the weather to improve. As soon as we saw an improvement in the weather conditions, we immediately took off again. This time we made progress with our flight despite the rough weather and rain clouds.
In over an hour, we reached Kawmzawl – the Helipad for Lunglei, where a CRPF Battalion was present.
The Commandant and his Medical Officer, who were in constant touch with Vathumpui Transit Camp told us that the conditions of the two jawans had deteriorated further and another jawan had contracted high fever. All of them were suspected to be suffering from Malignant Malaria, which could turn fatal.
Just as we were ready to take off after a quick refuelling, the weather turned hostile again. Darkness swooped down on the hills as the evening came. We went to Battalion Head Quarter at Lunglei to try our luck next morning.
We got up early in the morning of 25th July, and started for Kawmzawl when it was still dark. Driving with extreme caution through the fog, we reached Kawmzawl. The early morning sky was overcast with heavy mist and dark clouds. Sensing not much hope for improvement in weather, we decided to take a chance and took off for Vathuampui, where the dangerously ill jawans were still awaiting help.
Initially the Helicopter flew through the clouds. The Pilot steered the Helicopter towards the narrow gaps between the hills and deftly came out of the high peaks of Lunglei. We now flew over the narrow steep mountain track between Parva and Lawngtlai. We could see the MNF Returnees in their battledress climbing on the high hill escorted by the CRPF men.
As we approached Vathuampui, we could detect the smoke signal given by the CRPF Post. The Pilot lowered the Helicopter, positioned it over a very small strip of land, and skilfully manoeuvred to manage the landing.
The seriously ill jawans, draped in heavy woollen blankets, were brought inside our Helicopter with the help of the CRPF Post personnel. So, finally after the 3rd attempt, we had succeeded in rescuing our jawans. Without wasting a moment we left immediately.
I got down at Kawmzawl, profusely thanking the IAF Pilot and the Co- Pilot for their help. The Helicopter took off with the 3 Jawans and flew over the high hills of Lunglei towards Aizawl, where the Jawans were to be admitted for treatment.
Our operation came to an end exactly on the last day of July, with completion of the mission assigned to CRPF.
This rescue operation taught me some invaluable lessons in life.
When the personnel saw that their contribution and their lives were valued by their officers, who had risked their own lives for them, they spared no efforts towards accomplishing the difficult task of bringing the MNF cadres, climbing through steep torturous hills in heavy torrential rains.
Goodwill and proper collaboration with the Indian Air Force and Indian Army resulted in the successful evacuation and treatment of Jawans. The IAF Pilot and the Co-Pilot tirelessly worked and even endangered their lives for evacuating the CRPF jawans.
Empathy for fellow soldiers helped in uplifting the morale of the troops. Inclement weather conditions, hazardous terrains, inhospitable conditions that posed serious health hazards did not stop the Air Force and CRPF personnel from completing the mission.
This article is contributed by Bhudeb Chakrabarti, Dy IG (Retd) CRPF. He has commanded several Operational and Administrative functions in the force and has imparted training to gazetted officers of CRPF and other central & state police forces.
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