Mobile rollout in naxal-hit regions may be delayed
KOLKATA: Rollout of mobile phone networks in India’s naxalite hotbeds as mandated by the Union Cabinet may be delayed amid differences over costs between Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. and the Universal Services Obligation Fund (USOF), the telecom department arm subsidising the venture. On June 4, the Cabinet had asked state-run BSNL to set up mobile connectivity in 2,199 regions prone to left-wing extremism in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh to improve communications and surveillance operations. The Cabinet decision had come nine days after a deadly Maoist ambush in Chattisgarh’s Bastar district on May 25 in which 27 people, including senior Congress leaders, were killed.
But state-run BSNL has refused to ink an agreement with the USOF for getting the project started. While the USOF administrator has pegged the project cost at Rs 3,046 crore, BSNL wants to add 16.5% establishment costs and 10% centage components, which would inflate the final cost upwards of Rs 3,500 crore. Centage is the profit margin computed on the final project cost. BSNL has also demanded additional compensation for motivating its staff to work in regions prone to left wing extremism, prompting the USOF to seek Telecom Secretary MF Farooqui’s intervention, said a top communications ministry official directly involved in the project.
The telecom secretary’s intervention has been sought to avoid project delays since BSNL has already missed the August 7 deadline for signing the project implementation pact with USOF, the official quoted above said. He added that its fresh demands would jack up the project cost by nearly Rs 500 crore, well beyond what was approved by the Cabinet two months ago. The USOF subsidises telecom infrastructure in rural India and its Rs 25,000-crore corpus is made up of funds from telecom operators who contribute 5% of their annual revenue to its kitty.
A senior BSNL executive said, “The telco had urged the USOF administrator to include issues like establishment costs in the overall project cost while calculating centage”. Centage is the profit margin computed on final project cost. Telecom Secretary Farooqui, however, has asked BSNL to establish mobile connectivity on a war footing in the naxalite zones, stressing that “security and safety were matters of immediate concern for the government”, according to an internal telecom department note seen by ET. A sign of the government’s seriousness is the recent fast-track amendment of the Indian Telegraph Act to pave the way for BSNL to roll out mobile networks in naxalite hotbeds on a nomination basis, bypassing the bidding route.
“BSNL should sign the agreement with the USOF immediately and go ahead with project implementation to adhere to timelines set by the Union Cabinet, given the sensitivity of the areas prone to left wing extremism,” says Farooqui, in the internal telecom department note. BSNL has to launch mobile operations in these regions by October 2014. The telecom secretary has indicated in the internal DoT note that “BSNL’s demands can be put up for resolution to the Telecom Commission,” after it has started project implementation. The Telecom Commission is the highest decision-making body in the communications ministry.
More info sought on declaring Ballia naxal-hit
The state government has sought more details from the office of the inspector general of police, Varanasi zone, for Ballia’s inclusion in the category of naxal-affected districts of the state. Inspector general of police GL Meena had recommended declaring Ballia a naxal affected district. In response to the request, the state government has demanded specific information about the naxal activities in Ballia. At present 106 districts in nine naxal affected states are included in the security related expenditure (SRE) scheme of the union home ministry. The scheme is meant for reimbursing the expenditure incurred by the states on antinaxal operations.
At present there are three districts of UP in the SRE scheme- Chandauli, Mirzapur and Sonbhadra. “The state government has sought more information regarding Ballia following the request to declare the district naxal affected,” Meena said. Of late, there has been increased naxal movement in Ballia district. After the involvement of naxals in the murder of a former gram pradhan in Ballia district came to light earlier this year, the district police chief of Ballia had recommended to the IG for including the district in the naxal-affected category.
The IG’s office, in turn, had requested the state government to include Ballia in this category. But the state government wants to know about the intensity of naxal violence in Ballia over a period of five years. The government, however, has clarified that exceptions could be made in some cases where it is found that a particular district, which was earlier not naxal affected or was marginally affected, has over the past two to three years reported an increased number of cases of naxal violence.
The state government also wants to know whether there has been consolidation of local organisations under the banner of naxals and whether Ballia has ‘liberated areas’ or ‘guerilla zones’ where the extremist outfits run parallel administration even though the overall violence profile may not be very high in the district. The government also wants to know about the firepower of naxals and their armed squads in Ballia.
“Free movement of naxals and their firepower will determine the potential of an extremist outfit to commit acts of violence in Ballia and be a serious threat to the internal security,” said a senior cop pleading anonymity. Sophistication of weapons is a determining factor in declaring any district naxal affected, the official added. Another major consideration before declaring any district naxal-affected is the spread of active mass front organisations of naxal groups that lend constant and effective support in terms of logistics and safe refuge to the armed cadres. The government also wants to know the pro-active measures taken by the cops and the district administration of Ballia to counter naxal menace in the district.
Maharashtra police still want him even after 45 acquittals
Police slapped 45 Naxal cases on him resulting in nine years of imprisonment, but different courts in Nagpur, Gadchiroli and Chandrapur districts acquitted him of all the charges. Now, working as a vendor at a small tea shop in Nagpur, Police want Ganpath Kudmethe to “surrender” which will be tantamount to an acceptance on the part Mr. Kudmethe that he was related to the Naxal movement. Ganpath Kudmethe, a resident of Karancha village in Gadchiroli district, was first arrested in 2004 and was slapped with over 30 cases related to Naxal violence and was charged under section 302 and 307 of the Indian Penal Code(IPC) and 3/25 of the Indian Arms Act.
Acquitted in all the cases and released from jail in December last year, Mr. Ganpath claimed that a team of Gadchiroli police approached him last week and asked him to surrender before Gadchiroli Superintendent of Police (SP). “Jimalgatta Police Sub Inspector (PSI) Mr. Munjawar and C-60 (the special anti Naxal unit of Maharashtra police) commander Madhukar Mattami met me last week and asked me to surrender before Gadchiroli SP” Mr. Ganpath Kudmethe told The Hindu.
“They (the police) also threatened my nephew Santosh in Govindgaon village. They even threatened my family members to pressurize me to surrender. I have been living a simple life here and I am happy with it. I was not involved in any kind of Naxal activities which were established in courts then why should I surrender?” asked Mr. Kudmethe. Mr. Ganpath is known as Vishvnath Kudmethe in police records. Gadchiroli Police PRO Dharmendra Joshi refused to comment on the issue saying only the SP can comment in this matter. Gadchiroli SP Mohammad Suvej Haque could not be reached for his reaction as his phone was switched off.
Centre sends stinker to Bihar on Maoists
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s development model might have won him accolades but his anti-Maoist offensive isn’t going anywhere. The home ministry has finally asked Nitish to deliberate on the mounting Maoist challenge before they carry out another attack.
Maoists have already carried out three grand attacks in Bihar this year and the state is the only one amongst nine naxal-affected states to have witnessed a sharp increase in violence. Home ministry statistics show that the state government has been losing ground to the guerillas — from the number of security personnel killed to police weapons looted. Infact, the minister of state for home affairs RPN Singh had told Parliament this week that the July 17 attack on the camp of the Special Auxiliary Police in which three policemen were killed and 30 sophisticated weapons looted, was “the largest CPI (Maoist) looting in recent years”.
Singh also alluded to the home ministry’s stinker sent a fortnight back when he declared that Bihar had been “requested” to take necessary measures “to effectively combat CPI (Maoist) and improve inter-state border coordination with Jharkhand”. Government officials earlier this year had threatened to pull back central troops so that they could be used more productively elsewhere in the anti-Maoist theatre. At the CM’s conference in June, the home ministry had tried to get an assurance that the offensive would be put back on track. Officials said a soft approach in Bihar also left the doors open for Maoists who feel the heat in adjoining Jharkhand.
Youth branded as Maoist released from jail
MIDNAPORE: A deaf and mute youth, who had been picked up by joint forces on the charge of being a Maoist from Duli village in West Midnapore’s Salboni three years ago, has been released for want of evidence. TOI had highlighted Rameswar Murmu’s plight in the days follwing his arrest, highlighting that he was mentally challenged and suffered from epilepsy. Rameswar was acquitted by the Midnapore chief judicial magistrate (CJM) A Bhattacharya on Friday.
The acquittal came after the CID submitted a report in court stating that it found “no evidence” against Rameswar. Though Rameswar, who was lodged in the Alipore jail, secured bail on December 18, 2010, his family members didn’t come forward to get him out of jail, claiming they were “not familiar” with Kolkata.
The youth, who was 20 years old then, had been picked up after a six-hour operation by joint forces in the Ranjya forest in Salboni. He was apparently the only one caught alive after an encounter where 8 suspected Maoists were found dead. The raid was conducted under the DSP, operations, Anish Sarkar. Rameswar’s house is near the encounter site. Though police could not extract anything from the youth, he was branded a hardcore Maoist and slapped with the most stringent of charges.
The police FIR (Salboni PS case No. 58) showed Rameswar was charged with sedition (sections 121, 122, 123, 124A of the IPC), the Arms Act (sections 25 and 27) and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (sections 16, 18 and 20). During one of the court hearings, his father Bankim Murmu had submitted a bunch of medical records which showed that his son had epilepsy since birth and developed problems at a very young age, which led to speech loss. The court had remanded him in judicial custody and ordered that Rameswar be kept at Alipore jail.The jail authorities were asked to get his ailment treated.
Though Rameswar secured bail on December 18, 2010, his family did not come forward to get him out of jail. Thus, he remained in jail all these years. On Friday, Rameswar’s father Bankim Murmu received him as the youth came out of the court lock-up after his acquittal. and discharge from the case. He said, “My son had been arrested though he was completely innocent.” Asked why he had not taken Rameswar out of Alipore jail after he got bail, Bankim said he didn’t go as he did not know Kolkata.
BSF nabs Maoists’ aide in Odisha
New Delhi, Aug 19 (IBNS): The Border Security Force (BSF) on Monday said it has apprehended one militant commander, who is a Maoists’ aide, in Malkangiri district in Odisha.”Acting on a specific BSF intelligence, troops of 61 Battalion BSF deployed in Malkangiri, Odisha, carried out a operation on 18th Aug 2013 in the general area of Chitrakonda market, Dist Malkangiri, Odisha,” the BSF said in a statement. During the operation, the force apprehended one militant commander identified as Parmeshwar. The 31-year-old militant commander is working as aides of top Maoist extremists in Malkangiri. He was handed over to Chitrakonda Police Station on the same day.