Naresh Chandra panel for more Army presence in Maoist areas

NEW DELHI: Notwithstanding the reservations within the government and outside over the Army’s role in Naxal-infested zones, the Naresh Chandra committee on national security has sought a larger presence of the forces in Maoist strongholds. The increased role for the Army, however, is sought by setting up of more military training facilities, like the one at Narayanpur in south Chhattisgarh, across the affected states, while strictly ruling out direct combat.

The panel has suggested that these Army training camps be located in Jharkhand, Odisha, Gadchiroli in Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh. The purpose, according to an official involved in deliberations of the committee, is to set a deterrent for the Maoists and loosen their “hold” over areas in which these Army facilities shall come up.

Also, even though Army will confine itself to training its men within the boundaries of the training establishment, it can reach out to the tribals residing in surrounding villages by offering them facilities like schools, medical care and potable drinking water. This may help in eroding the support base of the Naxalites.

The Army training schools proposed in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Maharashtra will help train the central paramilitary forces engaged in counter-Naxal duties in jungle warfare.

The Naresh Chandra panel – which submitted its report in May, making recommendations on the entire gamut of issues concerning national security — decided not to interfere with the CCS mandate of keeping the Army away from operational deployment. However, it favoured empowering the troops to take retaliatory action against the Naxalites, in defence.

A major debate had broken out following the killing of 74 CRPF personnel in a Naxal ambush in Dantewada in April 2010, on whether the Army should be roped in for counter-Naxal operations. However, the CCS at the time decided against an active combat role for the Army, citing the risk of unnecessary collateral damage to civilians as Army personnel are trained to kill the “adversary”, unlike the paramilitary forces who are conditioned for minimizing injury and fatality.

The CCS eventually decided not to alter the mandate of the Army so as to enable its deployment to fight Left-wing extremism. However, the government did not want to close the option of calling in the Army were the Naxal situation to worsen in the future. And, for this purpose, an Army sub-area headquarters was established in Chhattisgarh and a training facility started at Narayanpur.

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