(Representative image) Photograph: (Facebook)
Twenty-five Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel lost their lives in an encounter with Maoists in Chhattisgarh's Sukma district on Monday, ANI reported.
Ninety CRPF jawans were part of the road opening party when they were attacked and their weapons looted by the Naxals.
All the troops belonged to the 74th battalion of the CRPF deployed in the area for anti-Maoist operations.
One of the survivors, Sher Mohammed said the Maoists had first sent locals to find out the position of the CRPF. He also claimed that the Naxals were around 300 in number and outnumbered the CRPF personnel.
"First of all the Naxals sent the villagers to trace our location, then almost 300 Naxals attacked us. We also fired and killed many of them. They were around 300 and we were around 150, we kept firing. I shot three to four Naxals in the chest and we all did our best," Mohammed said.
The encounter first began at around 12:25 pm between the Burkapal-Chintagufa area of the worst Maoist violence-affected district in south Bastar area of the state.
The state's chief minister Raman Singh called for an emergency meeting following the situation. Director General of the CRPF and senior officials will reach Sukma today morning.
"This is a grave matter. Our hearts go out to the martyred. We will rethink our strategies in that area soon. I will sit and have a talk with the head of CRPF and police," he said.
India's home minister Rajnath Singh said he was saddened by the attack and was sending minister of state Hansraj Ahir to Chhattisgarh to take stock of the situation.
"Extremely pained to know about the killing of CRPF personnel in Sukma. My tributes to the martyrs and condolences to their families," he tweeted.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack and offered condolences to the families of the deceased, saying the sacrifice of their loved ones would not be in vain.
"Attack on CRPFIndia personnel in Chhattisgarh is cowardly and deplorable. We are monitoring the situation closely," Modi posted on Twitter.
Fatal attacks by insurgents on security forces in central and eastern India are frequent, but Monday's assault was among the deadliest in years.
Television footage showed injured commandos in their army fatigues being stretchered from ambulances into hospitals for treatment.
The Maoist insurgency started as a peasant uprising in 1967, and since then has cost thousands of lives in the rebel-dominated "red corridor" stretching through central and eastern India.
Tit-for-tat jungle skirmishes often result in heavy casualties on both sides.
Last month 11 paramilitary policemen were killed when their convoy was ambushed in Chhattisgarh, while at least 20 troops died in a separate attack in 2015.
In 2010 Maoists killed 76 police in the worst-ever massacre of security forces by the insurgents. The incident shook the country and led to pressure on the government to rethink its tactics.
Critics believe attempts to end the revolt through tough security offensives are doomed to fail, saying the real solution is better governance and development of the region.
The guerrillas, who say they are fighting for the rights of tribal people and landless farmers, often collect funds through extortion.
Modi had been seeking to stem the insurgency by earmarking development funds for revolt-hit areas and improving policing. In 2015 he urged Maoists to put down their guns and take up ploughs, saying "violence has no future".
(WION with inputs from agencies)