In conformity with the overall decline in Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) violence in 2011 in India, Chhattisgarh witnessed a dramatic decline in fatalities in Maoist-related violence. According to partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of 176 persons, including 39 civilians, 67 Security Force (SF) personnel and 70 Maoists, were killed in 2011, as against a total of 327, including 72 civilians 153 SF personnel and 102 Maoists in 2010 in Chhattisgarh.
The SF fatality figure of 67 in 2011 excludes the killing of nine Policemen, including the DSP of Gariaband Police Station, who were killed in Odisha, after they crossed the inter-State border, on receiving information about the movement of some Maoists there.
On the other hand, the Maoist fatality figure includes two large, but unconfirmed, claims. The first such claim was made in the aftermath of a Maoist ambush on a Police party on March 14, 2011 at Chintalnaar in Dantewada District. It was then claimed that 30 Maoists were killed in retaliatory fire after the Police lost three troopers in the initial fire. Police also claimed of killing 10 Maoists in retaliatory fire after the CRPF lost three men in Maoist attack on June 11, 2011, at Bhejji village in Dantewada. In both cases the SFs failed to recover a single body. That effectively brings the total fatalities among the Maoists down to 30, while it raises those among the SFs to 76. In 2010, the total number of Maoists’ bodies recovered stood at 47, as against a reported 102 fatalities.
The State witnessed 13 major incidents in 2011 (involving three or more fatalities), as against 19 in 2010. Further, the number of ‘swarming attacks’ by the Maoists (involving 50 or more cadres/militia) also declined from 11 in 2010 to six in 2011. Likewise, the numbers of blasts triggered declined from 15 to 13 while incidents of arson went down from eight to five. Damage done to economic infrastructure has also diminished considerably. According to a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) release, Damage to Economic Infrastructure, 21 incidents of Maoists targeting economic assets were reported in Chhattisgarh in 2011, as against 42 in 2010, 36 in 2009 and 71 in 2008.
Very significantly, the spate of violence that was witnessed in other States in reaction to the killing of Maoist politburo member Koteswara Rao alias Kishanji on November 24, 2011, found no resonance in Chhattisgarh. 27 incidents of violence had been reported from five States during the course of the Bharat bandh (all India shut down) of December 4-5, 2011, called by the Maoists protesting the killing, but none was recorded in Chhattisgarh.
SATP data clearly indicates a secular decline in Maoist activities in the State in 2011. Official data presented by MHA (till November 15, 2011) confirms this assessment. Possibly encouraged by these numbers, Chhattisgarh Director General of Police (DGP) Anil M. Navaney, on January 5, 2012, asserted that Maoist activity in the State has been ‘contained’ in 2011, with strategic intelligence-based joint operations by State Force and Central Para Military Forces (CPMFs). “There were no major acts of Naxal violence in the recent months, as security personnel continued to maintain a strong vigil on the ultras’ movement in the Bastar and other Naxal-affected Districts,” Navaney stated.
Unfortunately, a closer look would tend to indicate that the decline in violence in Chhattisgarh is not the visible consequence of exemplary SF and intelligence operations, and of progressive SF dominance. Rather, there are disturbing signs of strategic consolidation by the Maoists, as SF operations, and consequent confrontations with the Maoists, stall.
An examination of major incidents recorded in the State makes the picture clearer. Out of the recorded 13 major incidents in 2011, all but one were initiated by the Maoists and inflicted casualties on the SFs. In the previous year, at least eight of 18 such incidents, were initiated by the SFs. Indeed, much energy has been expended in entirely futile ‘area domination’ exercises.Speaking in the Vidhan Sabha (State Legislature) on March 28, 2011, for instance, Chhattisgarh Home Minister Nankiram Kanwar admitted that 327 troopers of the Chhattisgarh Police and CRPF conducted a five day area domination exercise from March 11 to March 16, and raided the villages of Morpalli, Timapuram and Tarmetla. In each instance, however, the SFs were ambushed by the Maoists, who set ablaze the villages and escaped in the ensuing confusion.
Data on Maoists’ arrested also suggest operational paralysis, with 145 arrests in 2011, as against 264 in 2010.
There are indications, moreover, of an expanding Maoist influence into hitherto unaffected and marginally affected areas. An analysis of Maoist violence in the State, as well as of over ground and underground activities, through 2011, indicates that 14 out of a total of 19 Districts now fall into the Maoist affected categories, as against nine in 2010. While seven Districts – Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Narayanpur, Rajnandgaon and Raipur – fell into the ‘highly affected’ category in 2011, this number stood at eight – Bastar, Bijapur, Dantewada, Kanker, Mahasamund, Narayanpur, Rajnandgaon and Durg – in 2010. However, five Districts – Gariaband, Mahasamund, Surguja, Jashpur, and Raigarh – were included in the ‘moderately affected’ category in 2011, as against just one – Dhamtari – in 2010. Two Districts – Dhamtari and Durg – were added to the ‘marginally affected’ category in 2011, where there were none in 2010.
The Maoists also added daring attacks in urban areas to their repertoire in 2011. On December 27, 2011, the Maoists triggered a massive blast at the newly constructed two-storey Police Station building at Geedam, a town close to the national highway and hardly 10 kilometers from the District Headquarters at Dantewada. The construction had almost been completed, and was shortly to be handed over to the Police. Earlier, on October 7, 2011, the Maoists triggered a powerful improvised explosive device (IED) near Geedam on National Highway 16, killing three Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) personnel travelling in a Tata 407 [light truck] as part of a convoy of 11 vehicles.
Meanwhile, interrogation of arrested Maoists has disclosed that unarmed wings of the Maoists operating in villages outside the forest areas have facilitated the spread of the Maoists into urban areas. The interrogation of a arrested Maoist Ghassu alias Rajberia, ‘president’ of the Janthana Sarkar (people’s government’) of Hadeli village, Kondagaon tehsil (revenue unit) in Bastar, reconfirmed the detailed hierarchical set-up of parallel governance and an intelligence wings in village and tehsil areas, divided into units like Raksha Dalam (defence squad), Janthana Sarkar and Area Sarkar. These units basically remain unarmed, run parallel governance systems, and provide intelligence and logistics to cadres located in forest areas.
Further, a reported alert issued by the CRPF stated that the Maoists had acquired the expertise to suspend an IED at a height of 4-5 feet on a tree, and to trigger a blast from a distance of around 200 meters. The report claimed that the Maoists had successfully tested the technique during some of their attacks on SF personnel in Dantewada. Meanwhile, intelligence reports claimed that nearly 500 arms manufacturing units had been established by the Maoists in the State. These were small in size, even run in huts and cottages deep inside forests, but were strategically located to facilitate a smooth supply of weapons and ammunition to armed squads. The presence of such arms-manufacturing units had been reported from Abujhmad, Kanker, Nagari, Sihaba, Sitanadi, Chura, Gariaband, Debbhog, Ammamora, Charraunda, Rasela, Komakhana, Naram, Khati, Kasekara, and Tuhulu areas in the Bastar and Mahasamund regions.
Demonstrating their continuing disruptive dominance, on July 3, 2011, the Maoists damaged the entire 23-kilometres stretch of ‘landmine resistant’ road from Bijapur to Gangalur in Dantewada District by digging out the road at 100 meter intervals. The road was secured by SF personnel three years ago, and then was re-laid to make it blast resistant. Considered to be a vital link between Andhra Pradesh and the Dantewada District, through the Bijapur District, the road had been opened to the public in January 2010.
On September 5, 2011, the Maoists attacked a CRPF camp just 18 kilometers from the Bijapur District Headquarters, and destroyed the whole structure of the camp by setting it ablaze. The camp was being set up to relocate the 85th Battalion in compliance to a Supreme Court ruling requiring SF personnel to vacate all school buildings.
Amidst the growing Maoist consolidation in the State, the rot within the civil administration in the affected areas appears to have worsened. Media reports have exposed how, behind the cover of conflict, corrupt officials and politicians have been looting the Public Distribution System (PDS), the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, tendu leaf (leaves of Diospyros Melonoxylon) collection, and the elementary education system. Notably, a series of articles titled Graft in Conflict Zone published in The Times of India, observed, for instance: “In Konta, the Dantewada District’s biggest block, as big as the State of Goa, one man has nearly monopolised both the distribution and transport of Public Distribution System rice. For the last five years, he has allegedly diverted a big portion of grain to markets in Odisha and Andhra, selling it illegally, depriving the poor of grain.”
The rot within has produced some appalling ideas. After disastrous attempt to outsource counter-insurgency operations to Special Police Officers (SPOs) under the Salwa Judum experiment, the State is now experimenting with the ‘outsourcing’ of developmental works in highly-affected areas. The State recently secured a grant of INR 230 million for the Ramakrishna Mission (RK Mission) from the Union Rural Development Ministry, for developmental projects in the Narayanpur District. According to Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, the Mission is the only group working in the Narayanpur since 1985, while the Government has been unable to make its presence felt. Moving a step further, Ramesh decided to engage the services of Catholic Bishops to spearhead development activities among the tribals of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, forgetting that the missionaries (Catholic bishops), ignoring the record of socio-religious tensions that have resulted from the intervention of religious organizations in such works in the past. Worse, it appears unlikely that the state will be able to check the flow of funds from such interventions, to the Maoists.
The deplorable state of civil administration in southern Chhattisgarh was further highlighted by the decision of the Union Rural Development Ministry to pay wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MNREGA) Scheme in cash, though established norms require such payments to be made banks and post offices. Ramesh observed, “If there is no bank, there is no use for Banking Correspondent models. Narayanpur in Chhattisgarh doesn’t even have a post office,” adding that cash payments were the only way out to attract tribals and other poor people to MNREGA jobs. Five Districts in Chhattisgarh will be allowed to pay MGNREGA wages in cash, under this decision. The reality of massive diversion of funds by corrupt officials, even where payments were channeled through banking institutions, and the even larger likelihood of such ‘leakage’ under a cash scheme, was completely ignored.
Ramesh announced, further, “Ten districts of Chhattisgarh are the most Naxal-affected areas. Cement concrete (CC) roads have been approved for construction in these Districts in the wake of safety (sic). Initially, the Centre and state used to bear equal expense on the construction of CC roads. However, now the Centre will provide 90 per cent funds for the road work.” The Minister also disclosed that, keeping in mind the crisis of contractors in Maoist-affected areas, the time limit for completion of construction had been raised from 18 months to 24 months. To compensate any losses suffered by contractors in case of Maoists damaging construction equipments, the Centre would provide insurance for all such equipments to be used in road construction.
Meanwhile, the failure of past operational misadventures, including the much-vaunted Operation Green Hunt and the Centre’s ‘massive and coordinated operations’ in Chhattisgarh, is now more openly acknowledged. DGP Navaney, on January 5, 2012, conceded, “Chhattisgarh is very cautious against Maoists who have not managed to carry out major attacks in recent months, but we are maintaining the heat on them in forested areas by conducting intelligence-based operations.” He added that he was striving to improve the intelligence set-up by adopting high-tech resources. He also disclosed that about 800 vacant posts of sub-inspectors and 60 posts of platoon commanders would be filled up by September 2012. Chhattisgarh has a Police population ratio of 170 per 100,000, as on December 31, 2010. The State also has 12,600 Central Paramilitary Force (CPMF) personnel deployed in anti-Naxalite duties. The State has, moreover, circumvented the Supreme Court order banning the recruitment and continuation of SPO’s by bringing out the ordinance on July 27, 2011. The Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Armed Police Force Ordinance, 2011, allowed the Government to raise an auxiliary armed police force battalion to absorb the SPOs in the regular force. Meanwhile, on August 25, 2011, the State Government disclosed a plan to set up 35 new Police Stations in forest areas dominated by the Maoists.
The decline in Maoist-related violence in Chhattisgarh is deceptive. Though the State has realized the futility of the ‘massive and coordinated operations’ of the past, intelligence-led operation are yet to show dramatic results. SFs are currently maintaining a safe distance from the Maoists, with very few offensive operations, but may well have to brace themselves for a bloodier future.