Visakhapatnam: In what could be considered as the worst-ever bloodshed in the state-sponsored combat against the Left wing extremists, 24 Maoists, including eight women, were shot dead in the Bejjangi jungles under the Panasput gram panchayat in Odisha’s Malkangiri district in the early hours of Monday. In a similar encounter reported in the Podia block of Malkangiri district in the past, 13 Maoists were gunned down. While Maoist top gun central committee leader ‘RK’ was said to have managed to escape unhurt four central committee members—Daya alias Garla Ravi, also Andhra Odisha Chhattisgarh Division Committee secretary, Ganesh, Mallesh and Chalapathi were killed in the encounter. Besides, Chalapathi alias Appa Rao, his wife Aruna and another leader Bakuri Venkata Ramana Murthy were believed to have been killed in the incident. Ravi had a reward of Rs 20 lakh on his head, while Chalapathi, secretary of the east division and native of Chittoor district, carries a reward of Rs 20 lakh on his head. His wife Aruna, deputy commander of the Koraput-Srikakulam Division Committee, carried a reward of Rs 5 lakh. A Greyhounds commando Abu Bakar, who was critically injured in the gun battle, succumbed to wounds while being airlifted to Visakhapatnam hospital for treatment. In a meticulous plan, the anti-LWE elite forces from Andhra Pradesh and Odisha were said to have jointly carried out the offensive against the Maoists following a tip off. The ultras busy in a party plenary were caught off-guarded, it is said. According to Odisha DGP KB Singh, the police recovered 18 bodies of the extremists at the encounter site. However, the bodies were yet to be identified, he added. But the unofficial information suggested that the toll was 24. “Maoist leader Daya killed in the encounter is carrying a reward of Rs 20 lakh on his head,” AP DGP Sambashiva Rao said. The security agencies, undertaking combing operations in the deep forests on the Andhra Odisha Borders, chanced upon the ultras. When the extremists opened fire, the police had to retaliate in self-defence, Sambashiva Rao told the media. The armed police seized 20 firearms, including four AK47 rifles, ten 303 rifles, three SLRs, one INSAS rifle, two kitbags, one laptop and Rs 2.16 lakh in cash and huge cache of cartridges from the spot after the encounter. Even as the police top brass described the police action as a combat in self-defence, the civil rights groups and writers organizations with the Left wing moorings alleged that it was all a cold-blooded murder. Vara Vara Rao of the Revolutionary Writers’ Association said the police launched an offensive against the Maoists when they were unarmed, holding a meeting. “As of now, we have to rely on police version only as the place of encounter is quite inaccessible and facts will come out soon,” a civil rights activist told. According to information, the rights groups are planning to visit the encounter site on a fact-finding mission soon. Even as the forest tracts spilled blood in the backdrop of the bloody encounter, fear stalks over 30 Adivasi habitations located in the ‘cut-off area’ on the AOB. According to reports, tribals are fleeing their habitations fearing police.