Maharashtra: Secure in Denial

17 January 2011
(South Asia Intelligence Review)

In their last major outrage of 2010 in Maharashtra, at least four Security Force (SF) personnel were killed and seven were injured when Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres triggered a powerful landmine blast near Umanoor Hill on the Alapalli-Sironcha Road in Gadchiroli District on December 21, 2010.

Data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management indicates that Maharashtra witnessed at least 40 fatalities, including 22 civilians, 15 SF personnel and three Naxalites (Left Wing Extremists) in 21 incidents of killing in 2010. On first sight, this appears to suggest a significant improvement over the previous year: there were 87 fatalities, including 52 SFs, 23 militants and 12 civilians in 22 such incidents in 2009.

Overall fatalities, thus, almost halved, giving a false indication that Maoist violence was on a decline. Closer scrutiny, however, shows that civilian fatalities rose from 12 to 22.

Fatalities among the Maoists fell to an eighth of their 2009 figure, from 23 to 3, while SF fatalities declined by a factor of almost three and a half, from 52 to 15. These figures suggest an escalation of Maoist depredations, even while the SFs fail to engage effectively with the rebels. Reports from the field, in fact, indicate that the Maoists are extending their areas of activity, even as the SFs withdraw into a defensive posture, failing to engage proactively.

In addition to the December 21 incident, the State witnessed another two major incidents (resulting in three or more fatalities) in 2010. These included:

October 8: Seven persons, including two schoolchildren and three Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel, were killed in two encounters with the CPI-Maoist in the in the Sawargaon forest area of Gadchiroli District along the Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border.

October 4: A land mine blast triggered by the cadres of the CPI-Maoist killed Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Inspector Nevrutti Yadav, two Sub-Inspectors of the District Police – Shashikant More and Mahendra Kumar Nalkul – and a constable each from the CRPF and the District Police, at Perimili in Gadchiroli. The Maoists managed to decamp with their weapons.

In 2010, incidents of killing were reported from just two Districts – Gadchiroli (39) and Bhandara (1) – out of a total of 35 Districts in the State. 2009 had also seen fatalities in two Districts – Gadchiroli (86) and Gonda (1).

The State witnessed a total 51 Maoist-related incidents, including incidents of killing, spread across seven Districts through 2010. Again, Gadchiroli topped the list with 40, followed by Chandrapur and Gondia (3 each), Nagpur (2), Amravati, Bhandara and Mumbai City (1). The number of such incidents stood at 36 in 2009 – Gadchiroli (30), Gondia (3), Chandrapur, Mumbai City and Nagpur (1 each).

Gadchiroli clearly remains the epicentre of Maoist violence in Maharashtra. Describing the security situation in the District during his visit, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram admitted, on December 29, 2010, that the Naxalites retained the capacity to attack “at will”. Earlier, speaking in the State Assembly, State Home Minister R.R. Patil stated that a large number of armed Naxalites were active in Gadchiroli District, and were ‘waging a war’ against state power.

He disclosed that the Union Government had provided four CRPF Battalions for the District, apart from a contingent of the ITBP. Significantly, on February 14, 2010, Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai had claimed, “Once the full complements of Forces come, we should be able to clear Gadchiroli of all Naxal elements within one year.”

Reports indicate increasing local support for the Maoists, though State Home Minister Patil, on July 8, 2010, responding to a query about the impact of a bandh (general shut down) called by the Maoists in the State insisted, “Only tehsils like Dhanora in Gadchiroli witnessed some support for the bandh.”

On May 20, Patil had claimed that the Naxalite movement was being funded by a section of the cash-rich mining industry. He suggested that the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence identify the sources of such funding from companies working in Naxal-hit areas.

Meanwhile, a Press communiqué of CPI-Maoist’s Maharashtra State Rajya Committee (MSRC), circulated in Gadchiroli in support of the December 1, 2010, Vidarbha bandh called by the Vidarbha Rajya Sangram Samiti (Vidarbha State Struggle Committee) , focused on the widening economic rift between Vidarbha and Western Maharashtra. The Maoists alleged that the State Government was favouring the growth of Western Maharashtra at the cost of the progressively impoverished Vidarbha region.

The pamphlet, written in Marathi and signed by ‘Comrades’ Kosa, ‘secretary’ of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee, and Sahayadri, ‘secretary’ of MRSC, emphasised that the approval of the 32,000 MW thermal power project in Vidarbha would lead to environmental degradation and mass displacement. The rebels also alleged that the SFs were targeting students and innocent young girls in the name of action against Naxalites. The neglected Vidharbha region is the principal prospective recruitment ground for the Maoists in Maharashtra.

However, K.P. Raghuvanshi, Additional Director General (Law and Order), insists that the Naxalites were trying to increase their cadre strength principally through coercion: “The people are now disillusioned with them and no one joins them voluntarily anymore. Most of the recruits in recent times have been roped in through intimidation, threats or blackmail.”

Raghuvanshi added that the State Police and Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs) had been carrying out area domination operations in Naxalite-affected areas: “The Central Reserve Police Force, Special Operation Group, C-60 commandoes and CoBRA [Combat Battalion against Resolute Action] commandoes are all part of the operation.”

The SFs did manage to arrest 50 Maoists, including three ‘State Committee’ members and one ‘zonal commander’, in 13 incidents of arrest in 2010. In one such incident, on December 28, six Maoists, including a couple, were arrested from Gondia and Chandrapur Districts. They included two Maoist ‘State Committee’ members. In addition, at least 10 Maoists surrendered through 2010, six of them on Republic Day (January 26, 2010). A February 17, 2010, report, citing official sources, claimed that a total of 319 Maoist cadres had laid down their arms before authorities in the Gadchiroli District since the initiation of he Government’s surrender scheme in August 2005.

Police recovered 81 rifles, mostly .303s and self loading rifles, ammunition and explosives, as well as Maoist literature, from the surrendered cadres. On December 5, 2010, Police seized Maoist literature inciting people to take up arms against the State in protest against ‘injustice’ and highlighting the ‘failures of the Government’ on various fronts.

Sources indicated that at least 12 pamphlets of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), the military wing of the CPI-Maoist, were recovered in the Ganeshpeth area of Nagpur. The pamphlets appealed particularly to the younger generation to join the organisation, urging that armed struggle was the only way to end injustice. The pamphlets, issued by the North Gadchiroli-Gondia border committee of the Maharashtra unit of the organisation, further stated that people should help the Maoists destroy the Police intelligence network and strengthen the Maoist intelligence mechanism.

The Maharashtra and Union Governments made significant allocations in their attempt to improve security in the Maoist affected areas. On February 23, 2010, State Finance Minister Sunil Tatkare announced a quadruple hike, from INR 173 million in financial year 2009-10 to INR 700.3 million for 2010-11, in the development allocation for the worst Maoist-affected Gadchiroli District.

More funds were made available to the Maoist affected regions by the Union Government. State Home Minister Patil, on May 21, disclosed that the Union Government had sanctioned INR 3.7 billion for roads in Gondia and Gadchiroli Districts. Gadchiroli was to receive INR 3.03 billion for 32 major road works (313 kilometres), while the remaining allocation was for six major roads in Gondia.

Again on August 11, he stated that, “The Centre has, in principal, approved aid of INR 5.8 billion for infrastructural facilities in Gadchiroli and Gondia Districts.” As 2010 approached an end, on December 15, the State Government announced a package of INR 6.54 Billion for the Naxal-hit Gadchiroli District for its ‘overall development’.

To increase the strength of the fighting Force, the State Government had announced, on January 29, 2010, that it would recruit 2,300 Police personnel, specifically for the security of the Gadchiroli District. On May 22, 2010, State Home Minister Patil disclosed that the Police recruitment drive in Gadchiroli and Gondia had received ‘tremendous response’, with some 30,000 applying for 8,000 vacancies advertised.

Of the candidates, 18,000 were from Gadchiroli. According to the Gadchiroli Police website, however, a total of just 981 Police personnel were selected in 2010. However, in order to strengthen the strike Force, on June 7, 2010, the first batch of the specially formed and trained ‘Alpha Hawks’ anti-Naxal unit was deployed in Gadchiroli, Gondia, Chandrapur and Bhandara Districts.

On May 21, moreover, the Maharashtra Home Department proposed a compulsory two years’ services for all Government officials in CPI-Maoist-affected areas, taking serious cognizance of the general reluctance to work there. Significantly, about 30 per cent of all posts were vacant in Gadchiroli District, and officials refused to go there, citing lack of security.

On February 8, 2010, in its bid to modernise the Police Force, the Maharashtra Government decided to formulate its “arms policy” within the next seven days, against the backdrop of the growing threat of terrorism and LWE. It eventually took almost four months for the Government to announce this new arms policy, on June 4, 2010, according to which the Police Force was to be equipped with sophisticated weapons, including imported firearms.

The policy seeks to equip the Police Force with modern pistols, assault rifles, sub machine guns, rocket launchers, Light Machine Guns and sniper rifles. The Government made funds available on priority basis for procuring arms and ammunition. The State Home Minister R. R. Patil added that the Department would review the policy after three years. The policy would also be applicable to the State Reserve Police. The policy, however, remains principally on paper, with necessary acquisitions still mired in bureaucratic red tape.

Indeed, according to official documents put together by the Union Home Ministry, Maharashtra is among the seven States that have fared poorly in modernising their Police Forces. Maharashtra was labelled as “poor performing state” as it failed to use the funds allocated by the Centre for upgrading the Police and intelligence apparatus, and for failing to submit its utilisation certificates (UCs) for funds spent. As a result, Maharashtra was denied additional allocations, and its “funds have been diverted to other responsive states.”

The report further indicated that the ‘poor performance’ States had outdated and obsolete weapons and even the extremist-prone Police Stations are often not supplied with modern weapons. Even where such Police Stations are supplied with modern weapons, Police personnel are not trained for their use. The Police communication network in such States does not function efficiently, they do not have enough vehicles and their forensic laboratories lack proper infrastructure.

Significantly during his visit to Gadchiroli, Union Home Minister Chidambaram had asked senior Policemen about the long-pending proposal to set up 10 additional Police Posts in the District, but received no satisfactory answer. Maharashtra has a Police population ratio of 155 policemen per 100,000 population (significantly higher than the national average of 128), but still lacks the wherewithal to combat the Maoist menace.

The broad orientation of the establishment in Maharashtra towards the Maoist menace remains confused, with excessive emphasis on developmental expenditure on projects that simply cannot be implemented in the absence of dramatically improved security.

The security sector, on the other hand, continues to suffer from massive deficits and an evident loss of direction, resulting in augmenting Maoist consolidation and expansion.

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