INDIA: MAOISTS’ MOBILE STRATEGIES – ANALYSIS
On August 20, 2014, the Union Cabinet approved the extension of mobile telephonic services to 2,199 locations affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE) in the States of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The project would be executed by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL). BSNL has already installed towers at 363 of these locations.
The Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) would fund the capital expenditure and operative expenditure, net of revenue, for five years. The project implementation cost through the open tendering process is approximately INR 35.68 billion. In 2013, the Cabinet had approved just over INR 30 billion for the project. The project was delayed by more than a year, apparently, because of differences over project cost. The USOF which is administered by Department of Telecom (DoT) was created under the National Telecom Policy of 1999 to help provide telecom services at affordable prices to people in rural areas where no phone facilities are available.
While USOF will provide both capital expenditure and operational expenditure components of the proposed mobile rollout for five years, the ownership of the assets to be created is proposed to be vested with BSNL to ensure long-term continuity of services. The network rollout will be monitored by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), as it is aimed at beefing up communications and surveillance operations by national security agencies in these regions. It is also learnt that UMHA and the Prime Minister’s Office want the project to get underway immediately as “it is of national importance with security considerations,” and is running a year behind schedule, a top BSNL official told the media. BSNL has already identified a sizeable number of tower sites in consultation with the UMHA. Initially, towers will be erected at places close to security camps and Police stations.
The project to install the towers in the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist)-affected areas was conceived in 2010 when P. Chidambaram was the Union Home Minister, but there was little progress in the matter since then. After the Maoist attack on the State leadership of the Congress party in Chhattisgarh on May 25, 2013, the Union Cabinet approved the project to install 2,199 mobile towers at a cost of INR 30.46 billion, and June 2014 was set as the deadline for completion of the task. Thus far, however, only 363 towers have been installed. Concerned about the delay, UMHA has been pressuring the Telecom Department to expedite installation of towers.
One reminder was sent a week before the March 11, 2014, Maoist attack in Sukma District in Chhattisgarh, in which 15 Security Force (SF) personnel and one civilian were killed. The then Union Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, observed, in a letter dated March 4, 2014, “The poor communication network in the Naxal-affected areas is a matter of serious concern.” Stressing the need to have a better communications network in place before the Lok Sabha elections, Shinde emphasised that installation of mobile towers should be expedited, especially in the highly Maoist-affected States such as Jharkhand, Bihar and Odisha, and called for an ‘all-out effort’ to complete the whole process before the Lok Sabha elections.
Shinde’s letter noted, further, “The work was awarded to Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and installation and roll out of mobile towers was targeted to be completed in 12 months.” The difference over project cost, about INR 7.89 billion, between actual requirement and the revised project budget approved by the Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs, in June 2013, was due to an ‘arithmetic error’, it was claimed. Official sources argued, “There is an arithmetical mistake in annual maintenance contract estimates, omission of certain items that are required for roll out of projects, revision of VSAT bandwidth charges and other. The DoT is studying it.”
Further, there were technical specification issues, such as whether to go for a solar powered 2G network, and whether to go for 20 watts ‘base transceiver station’ (BTS)/cell phone tower or five watts, that delayed the implementation of the project. These issues now appear to have been settled, but the implementation of the project may still be headed for a bumpy ride. First, the tender for the work was initially floated by BSNL in August 2013, but received lukewarm responses, with major global players opting out, and just three Indian players participating. That is unusual in the prevailing economic situation, when companies are struggling to maintain growth and profit margins, and the contract was for approximately of INR 30 billion.
In March 2014, the Telecom Commission asked DoT and BSNL to go for retendering, citing the project’s higher costs and poor response. After two months of the re-tendering exercise, however, the two companies – Vihaan Networks Ltd and HFCL – who had earlier qualified in the technical bidding, were again in the fray, as no other company, Indian or foreign, decided to participate. This was despite the extension of the application deadline by a week in May. A BSNL official noted, “During recent pre-bid meetings, global telecom gear suppliers were reluctant to participate in the bidding as they felt that managing and maintaining mobile networks in Naxal-hit regions is risky.”
A top executive of a leading foreign gear maker conceded that the “additional responsibility of maintaining expensive solar-powered mobile networks in Naxalite hotbeds is fraught with significant business risks”. In such a situation, quality is likely to be first casualty. The second issue is the provision of continuous power supply to the towers. Solar power has its limitations, and even where power supply is not very erratic, BSNL backup batteries start providing insufficient back up, in some cases, within just one year, due to poor maintenance. Solar panels need regular cleaning of the surface, as dust decreases the efficiency of the panels.
Further, 24×7 availability (or at least availability at short notice) of trained manpower is needed for maintenance of batteries, to protected against full discharge. Even three or four full discharges severely affect the efficiency of batteries. Further, the restoration time in case of some fault in solar-power towers is unknown, but is likely to be substantial, as local knowhow is limited. Arranging any outside service in LWE-affected areas will create its own and significant problems. Diesel supplies to run generators are even more erratic, with BSNL managing an inefficient network of its own, whereas private operators generally outsource the service to locals. Media reports indicate that shortages in diesel supplies to mobile towers have long been an issue in existing towers in Maoist-affected areas, with nodal supply points located at long distances from the towers.
In a note sent to the Department in 2013, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs observed, “it has come to the notice of MHA that some existing BSNL towers in the LWE-affected areas remain shut for long periods of time ostensibly due to non-availability of diesel to run the generators etc. Hence, sufficient monitoring mechanisms may be put in place to deliver better services.” It remains to be seen how these issues will be addressed for the much wider network of towers envisaged in the current project. The third issue is the identification of relatively secure locations for the mobile towers. Though towers are initially to be set up close to security camps and Police Stations, given the very poor density of such establishments in Maoist affected areas, it will be difficult to find appropriate locations for such a large number of towers.
Further, the location of security camps and establishments are based on strategic considerations, which may not coincide with the technical requirements of the location of the towers. There is, moreover, the BSNL’s track record of providing poor service even in areas where there is no threat from Maoists. The organisation’s efficiency in Naxalite afflicted regions can only be expected to be poorer. Crucially, moreover, the Maoists recognize the threat that an efficient – or even minimally working – cellular network constitutes to their own security and survival, and have systematically attacked isolated mobile towers wherever possible. According the UMHA, at least 245 such attacks are on record just between 2008 and 2013. The penetration of a public communications networks into their areas of operation has been acknowledged by the Maoists to be one of the crucial elements leading to a decline in their operational effectiveness and recruitment potential. In their Social Investigation of North Telengana, in what was then the worst affected region of Andhra Pradesh, the Communist Party of India – Maoist, observed, as far back as in the early 2000s,
Earlier there was the post and telegraph department in the rural area. Branch post offices were set up in the big villages. In addition to these tele communications also came up rapidly… In the big villages with a population of 5 to 7 thousand, there are 70 to 100 telephones. But the facility is not spread over all the villages… Since phone can be obtained with 600 rupees there are 300 applications from one village… Cell phone facility spread to 60 kms up to Janagama, 40 kms towards Mulugu, and near Bhupalapalli.This network exists in almost the whole area of our operation. The cells are mainly established by the medical, fertiliser, big grocery shops and some rich peasants.
Small contractors, political leaders and police informers also bought them… The middle class is opposing the blasting of the exchanges. The increased communication network facilitated the enemy to receive our information soon… Now if a squad member goes to the village for food and it is exposed, the police from the near by station can encircle us within one hour. We are unable to identify who leaded the information…
NMDC’s Bailadila Project Gets Delayed After Naxal Attack
Already running about six months behind schedule, a Rs 607 crore expansion project of state-run miner NMDC at Bailadila in Chhattisgarh is set to be delayed further after Naxals burnt part of a conveyor belt meant for evacuating the raw material from the new mine. The Bailadila 11B deposit is very crucial for NMDC in its efforts to achieve 50 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) capacity by 2018-19. The project, slated to be commissioned by March this year, will have a capacity to produce seven mtpa iron ore.
“As part of plan to enhance production, the construction of Deposit 11B mine at an expanded capacity of seven million tonnes per annum has been taken up. The estimated capital expenditure towards this is Rs 607 crore. Naxal activities have seriously hindered the progress of the project work,” NMDC said in its Annual Report. Out of the proposed investment, Rs 320 crore was meant for plant and the remaining Rs 187 crore was earmarked for mining machineries. Naxals had in March this year burnt the downhill conveyor of 11 B over a length of 500 meters, which was scheduled to take trial run in May.
CRPF suspends 17 personnel for inaction during Naxal ambush
In a strict disciplinary action, the CRPF has suspended 17 of its troopers, including four junior officers, for “inaction” after an inquiry found that they deserted their martyred colleagues during a deadly Naxal ambush earlier this year in Chhattisgarh which claimed 16 lives along with a civilian. A Court of Inquiry instituted immediately after the March 11 incident in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district found that these personnel, part of the squad that was trapped in the ambush in a narrow field, displayed “lack of action and did not show satisfactory counter action” to save their fellow troopers as they ran for safety of their lives.
“The Inspector General Chhattisgarh has placed them under suspension after the preliminary inquiry found them guilty on these charges. The full inquiry would be completed within three months time,” CRPF Director General Dilip Trivedi said.
Chhatisgarh: Senior Maoist leader killed in gun-battle with security forces
A senior Maoist leader was killed in an intense gun-battle between security forces and rebels in Chhattisgarh’s insurgency-hit Rajnandgaon district, police said on Wednesday. The face-off took place last night on the Gahangatta hills under Aundhi police station limits, Rajnandgaon Superintendent of Police Sanjeev Shukla said. The Maoist was identified as Sunil Aayla, ‘deputy commander’ of Aundhi LGS (Local Guerrilla Squad), who was carrying a reward of Rs 3 lakh on his head, Shukla said.
Based on a tip-off about a meeting of senior Naxal leaders on Gahangata hills, around 6 km from Aundhi police station, a joint squad of special task force and district police launched a search operation yesterday. Ultras opened fire indiscriminately from the hill top after they were surrounded, and fled after an hour as security personnel retaliated, the SP said. While Aayla’s body was recovered, blood stains at the site indicated that some of his other colleagues were also injured or killed, the officer said.
An SLR rifle, 50 cartridges, two tiffin-bombs, a walkie-talkie, medicines, and commodities of daily use were found. Associated with Naxal movement since 2005, Sunil was a native of Karyakatta village of Rajnandgaon.
ATS detains alleged Naxal near Pune
The Maharashtra ATS has detained an alleged Naxal from the Chandrapur district in Kasewadi area of Pune on Monday. He will be handed over to the Chandrapur police for further legal procedure, according to senior police inspector Bhanupratap Barge of Pune ATS. According to ATS officials, the suspect has been identified as Arun Bhelake (38), a resident of Chandrapur. “The ATS has detained him for inquiry from Kasewadi area on Monday on the basis of intelligence inputs from senior authorities.
It was revealed in the initial investigation that he was a former president of the Deshbhakti Yuva Manch. He was working for recruitment of youth for a banned Maoist organisation through his organisation and also has links with Naxal leaders. The offence was also registered against him with under the UAPA, 2008,” said the official. “The suspect’s movements were reported in Pune in the last one year and he was also in touch with a group of youths in the city aged around 18 to 22 years. He introduced himself as Sanjay Kambale in Pune,” Mr Barge added.
Anti-Terrorism Squad arrests two Naxals after recovery of evidence
The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on Tuesday arrested alleged Naxals Arun Bhelake (38) and Kanchan Nanaware (31) after recovery of incriminating evidence from their homes in Kanhe Phata area of Pune. The court of first class magistrate has remanded them to ATS custody till September 9. Both Bhelake and Nanaware are residents of the Chandrapur district. According to an ATS official, Bhelake was detained from Kasewadi area, Pune, on Monday and after his questioning Nanaware was also detained.
Incriminating documents and over Rs.90,000 were recovered from their homes in the Kanhe Phata area. Thereafter, an offence was registered at the ATS police station and Bhelake and Nanaware were arrested by the ATS and produced before the court on Tuesday. The report filed by the ATS in court read, “The duo was on the run in connection with an offence registered in the Chandrapur district. They had obtained forged documents to hide their identity. The agency has recovered PAN cards, Aadhar cards, incriminating literature and Rs.90,530 from their homes in Pune. They are involved in Naxal campaigns and recruiting youths for Naxal or Maoist activities.”
Bhelke was in touch with 30 youths: ATS
PUNE: Arun Bhelke, the alleged recruiter of the banned CPI (Maoist) group, was in contact with about 30 youths from different parts of the city in the past one year, investigations of the state anti-terrorism squad (ATS) have revealed. The Pune unit of the ATS recovered the list of these youths from the rented room where Bhelke and his wife, Kanchan Nanaware alias Bhomi (31), lived. Nanaware has also been arrested for her alleged involvement in recruiting youths for the banned outfit. Bhanupratap Barge, senior inspector of the ATS, Pune, told TOI that Bhelke had identified youths from Bhavani Peth, Kasewadi, Lohiyanagar, Maharshinagar, Market Yard, Ghorpadigaon, Premnagar, Solapur Bazaar, Mangalwar Peth, Ramtekdi, Hadapsar Gadital, Sahakarnagar and other areas. “Bhelke chose two youths from each area. About 30 from these areas were in contact with him,” Barge said.
The ATS has also recovered a laptop and CDs from a vada-pav and tea stall that Bhelke and Nanaware had rented. “The CDs are mainly used for training. One of the CDs shows how Maoists had abducted three policemen, interrogated them and later killed them. We suspect that this incident may have taken place sometime in 2008,” Barge said. Bhelke had been asked to concentrate on recruiting youths from Pune and Mumbai. Further investigations are going on, he added.
Another ATS officer said that the laptop also has several photographs of Maoist men and women armed with rifles and guns. “These photographs would certainly help in the anti-naxal operations in Gadchiroli and Chandrapur districts,” the officer said. Police have also seized documents from Bhelke, written in some code. “We are trying to crack the code. Prima facie investigations revealed that Bhelke and his accomplices had planned their meetings till December. The meeting spots, names of the persons have been written in the code,” the officer said. The officer said that they have also recovered a list of some code names. “The list is old. The Maoists change their code language frequently so that the police are not able to crack it,” the officer said adding, “In that list, Maoists were using the word medical store for a railway station, the word loan was used for printing. The number 20 was used for ?We are coming’ and 10 for ?come’.” The officer said that Kanchan Nanware alias Bhoomi is also an active member of the outfit.
Naxal arrested in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district
A Maoist was arrested on Saturday in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada district. District superintendent of police Kamalochan Kashyap said that Kosa (30), an active member of Malangir area committee of the Maoists, was arrested by a team of CRPF and district police in Kirandul police station limits of the district. Kosa was involved in Naxal activities for the past ten years, Kashyap said. He was also a member of `Dandakaranya Adiwasi Kisan Mazdoor Sangh’ of Maoists, and president of its Tikanpal unit. Kosa’s responsibilities included recruitment, spreading the Naxal propaganda among locals and conducting reccee before attacks.
Maoist party’s platoon commander and landmine expert held in Jharkhand
A platoon commander -cum-landmine expert of CPI (Maoist) outfit has been held from Kolaburu hill of Saranda forest of Naxal-hit West Singhbhum district, a senior police officer today said. Following a tip off, a combined team of CRPF and District Armed Police launched a massive search operation in the forest and apprehended Kishore Kisku alias Diwakar, a resident of Pirtand police station area of Giridih district, last night, Superintendent of Police N K Singh said.
Singh said 14 detonators, a country-made pistol, two live cartridges, one mobile phone, 8 memory cards, a radio, Naxal literature and cash over Rs 19,000, were recovered from him. Kisku was wanted in 14 Naxal-related incidents in West Singhbhum district. These included the landmine blast on Kiriburu-Karampada road in February 2006, which claimed lives of 12 CRPF jawans and an encounter in 2010 in which two policemen were killed. In the first attack k he was involved in, Kisku had blown up a residential school building in Thalkobad in June, 2006, Singh said adding that he joined the CPI (Maoist) under the influence of a Naxal leader Ajay Mahato alias Dadu in Giridih in 2004 and was shifted to Saranda later.
Under the guidance of Anmol da and Sandeep da, Maoist leaders, Kisku was trained to make and plant landmines, the top police officer said, adding that later Kisku was made “section commander” and provided fire-arms. Referring to the memory cards recovered from him, Singh said that they contain vital clues about Naxal activities and would help in police investigations.
Maoists open fire on Hawk force in Balaghat
BHOPAL: Heavy exchange of fire took place twice between Hawk force of state police and an armed squad of CPI (Maoist) at Naxalite-infested Balaghat district on Thursday evening. Encounter started when a strong Hawk force contingent entered Machurda forest area — located 30 kms from district headquarters during routine patrolling.They were heading towards the forest from the area under Birsa police station, when rebels opened fire for the first time. Commandant, who was leading the force, ordered retaliation.
Firing continued from both sides for over 15 minutes. However, no casualty was reported from either side. Maoists who were at a vantage position fired from SLRs and AK-47s, said sources. “It seems to be a change attack instead of an ambush. That was a transit point for Maoists to sneak into adjoining Maharashtra. We carried on patrolling even after they retreated. But they opened fire again after an hour,” said Sanjeev Shami, who heads state’s counter intelligence (CI) unit and monitors anti-naxal operations. Hawk force seized a 12-bore weapon which the rebels dropped while fleeing into the dense forest.
Explosives seized in Mirzapur
Mirzapur: Explosives were today seized and two persons arrested during a raid in Ahraura area of this Naxal-hit district in Uttar Pradesh. Acting on a tip off, a raid was carried out during which 2,160 gelatin rods and 3,000 detonators were seized, police said. Two persons have been arrested and were being interrogated in connection with the seizure. A jeep was also recovered from the spot and it is suspected that the vehicle was used to transport the explosives, it said. There have been several instances of recovery of explosives over the last several months in Mirzapur, which is a Naxal affected area.
Two Maoists Arrested with Machine Gun
AURANGABAD: Two Maoist cadres were arrested today from Manjhaulia Hills area in Aurangabad district of Bihar and a country-made machine gun and explosive materials were seized from them. Aurangabad SP Upendra Kumar Sharma said, “The two Maoists have been identified as Mukesh alias Brajesh and Jitendra Pal. They hail from different villages in the district. They had been involved in various acts of violence.” Mukesh is said to be of Sonarchak village in Salaiya police station and Jitendra hails from Jakhim village, he said. “They are part of the armed squad maintained by CPI (Maoist) in the area. We have seized a country-made machine gun and a pistol, ammunition, white-coloured explosive powder, urea, sulphur, other bomb-making materials, Naxal literature and uniforms from them,” said the SP.
Massive operation on in Latehar to flush Left Wing extremists
Directed by the union home ministry, joint forces comprising state and central paramilitary forces are combing the hills and suspected hideouts of Maoist rebels in Jharkhand’s Latehar district, one of India’s highly Maoist affected district. The operation launched early last week is continuing in full swing despite the late monsoon showers in the area. Police said the ongoing combing operation is a part of the security forces’ strategy for setting up Forward Camping Site (FCS) or base camps at strategic locations in highly naxal infested areas of the district.
The base camps are to be set in certain regions which are still considered to be highly under the influence of the CPI (Maoists) and where the presence of security arrangements was minimal. The entire exercise is also aimed to flush away the rebels from the state ahead of the forthcoming assembly elections. The security forces have already set up new base camps at strategic locations during this operation. “Liberating areas beyond Saryu from the clutches of the CPI (Maoists) and ensuring area domination by the security forces in those areas is one of the prime objectives of this operation,” informed one CRPF officer refusing to be quoted.
The CRPF 11 Battalion commandant SD Pandey said, “There is no looking back now. We will only rest once the task is completed.” Penetration of forces into their home turf has not gone down well with the Maoists who have attacked the forces’ camps at Kukku and Ambatikar in the last five days. A Maoists squad attacked a base camp at Ambatikar around 9 pm on Tuesday night. Forces camping here retaliated resulting in an exchange of fire which lasted nearly for an hour.
The rebels had recently stalled the construction of an ambitious bridge on North Koel River in Saryu region and asked the contractor not to proceed further without their orders. The Maoists action has jeopardised the success of the Saryu Area Development Action Plan launched by former union minister, Jairam Ramesh to develop the rebel hit district. “We have reports about presence of senior (CPI) Maoist leaders in the hills,” Latehar police superintendent Michael Raj said. “We receive directives from the union home ministry on a routine basis and act according to them,” he added.
Police destroy Maoist camp in Odisha
Bhubaneswar: Police on Wednesday destroyed a Maoist camp in Odisha’s Koraput district, an official said. Inspector General of Police (Southwestern Range) Yashwant Jethwa said the camp was destroyed in a forested area near Majhiguda village under Baipariguda police station area. He said police raided the camp and engaged in a brief gun battle with the rebels. The gun battle ended with the Maoists fleeing the area.
Two killed in crossfire between Maoist and security forces
Gumla (Jharkhand): Two persons were killed and six others were injured when they were caught in an encounter between security personnel and Maoists in Gumla district of Jharkhand today, prompting Chief Minister Hemant Soren to order a probe into the incident. “Truck driver Heeralal Oraon (30) and labourer Nilesh Oraon (26) died while Ashok Oraon, Sureshwar Oraon, Sameer Oraon and Upendra Oraon were injured in crossfire between Maoists and security forces at Marwai village under Bishanpur police station early in the morning,” said Mritunjay Kumar, Superintendent of Police (Lohardaga district), who is also acting SP of Gumla district.
Kumar said they received an information that a group of naxals have gathered in the village and the security personnel arrived there to apprehend them. When the security personnel made an attempt to intercept a bauxite-laden truck, firing started from other side, which forced them to retaliate, the SP said, adding, that it was not yet ascertained whether the victims including the truck driver were killed by security personnel or Maoists bullets. The injured were rushed to the nearby Bishanpur Community hospital, where doctors referred two seriously injured persons to Rajendra Institute Medical Science in Ranchi, Kumar said. Senior police officials including DIG (Ranchi) Praveen Kumar Singh have reached the spot to investigate the incident.
Jharkhand minister accused of founding Maoist group hits back at police
A day after being accused by the Jharkhand police of founding and funding a Maoist organisation, state agriculture minister Yogendra Sao on Thursday hit back at the police, accusing them of patronising a left wing extremist group. “The police are biased towards me,” said Sao claiming innocence. The minister said police have let lose armed cadres of Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC) in the coal belt by allowing them to collect huge levy unhindered.
“They are patronising all kinds of anti-social and anti-national elements, especially in coal rich Hazaribag district.” said Sao who was accused by the Hazaribad police of forming and funding Jharkhand Tigers, a left wing extremist group. Sao, a Congress legislator, represents mineral-rich Badkagaon assembly constituency. Sao, who owns a couple of mines, said he was targeted by rivals and local politicians who owe allegiance to the BJP and the AJSU.