By Ajit Kumar Singh*
In the worst attack targeting the Security Forces (SFs), in terms of fatalities, across India, since the June 29, 2010, Jhadha Ghati attack, cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) killed at least 25 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and injured another six in an ambush at Kalapattar in the Burkapal area of the Sukma District of Chhattisgarh on April 24, 2017. According to details available, an estimated 200-300 Maoists attacked the CRPF personnel who were out to provide protection for road construction work in the area. Though the CRPF claimed that “a considerable number of Maoists are believed to have been eliminated (in retaliatory action by CRPF men) as the tell-tale sign indicate from the ground,” only one body of a Maoist fighter was recovered, in the night of April 27, “just 500 metres away from the spot where the gun battle had taken place”. The body was recovered during search operations in the area. The Maoists had also looted at least 21 weapons, ammunition and 22 bullet proof jackets from the possession of the slain CRPF personnel.
On June 29, 2010, 27 personnel of the CRPF, including Assistant Commandant Jatin Gulati, were killed in a CPI-Maoist ambush in Narayanpur District of Chhattisgarh. The attack took place near a hilly stretch known as the Jhadha Ghati, three kilometres from the CRPF’s Dhudhai base camp. However, the Maoist’s worst ever attack targeting the SFs was at the Tarmetla village near Chintalnad in the Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh, on April 6, 2010, in which 75 CRPF personnel and one State Policeman were killed. Significantly, this area now falls under the Sukma District after the bifurcation of Dantewada.
Among other recent major attacks in Sukma, the Maoists had killed 12 CRPF personnel and injured another four when they ambushed a road opening party in the forests near Kottacheru village under the Bhejji Police Station on March 11, 2017. The troops were part of a road clearing party that has been securing an under-construction road between Bhejji and Kottacheru. Maoists looted arms and ammunition from the slain CRPF personnel.
According to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management (ICM), Sukma has accounted for at least 45 Maoist-related deaths (four civilians, 38 SF personnel, three Maoists) during the current year so far (data till April 30, 2017). Out of 30 districts across six states from where such fatalities have been reported in 2017, Sukma recorded the highest number of killings at 45. Narayanpur District stands at a distant second with 17 fatalities (three civilians, one trooper, 13 Maoists) followed by 13 fatalities each in Bijapur (two civilians, four SF personnel, seven Maoists) and Dantewada (two civilians, two SF personnel, nine Maoists), all Districts of Chhattisgarh.
Since January 16, 2012, the day Sukma was carved out of Dantewada as a separate District, a total of 1,947 fatalities (including 698 civilians, 482 SF personnel, 767 Maoists) have been reported from 82 Districts across 12 states (data till April 30, 2017). Out of these, Sukma alone has accounted for a total of 254 Maoist-related deaths (58 civilians, 123 SF personnel, 73 Maoists), i.e. 13.04 per cent of total fatalities, the highest for any single District in the country, followed by Bijapur (Chhattisgarh), 218; Gadchiroli (Maharashtra), 159; and Malkangiri (Odisha), 141. These were the only four Districts where fatalities reached into triple figures over this period.
More worryingly, Sukma alone has accounted for 25.51 per cent of total SF fatalities during this period (123 out of a total of 482). Bijapur with 49 SF fatalities stands at a distant second. Though, the SFs have secured a positive SF:Maoist kill ratio of 1:1.59 across India, in Sukma it favours the Maoists, at 1.68:1. Out of the 37 Districts in the country from where fatalities in both these categories were reported, the kill ratio was in favour of the SFs in 18, was at par in four, and favoured the Maoists in the remaining 15. There were another 25 Districts from where only Maoist fatalities were reported. Four Districts recorded only SF fatalities.
These numbers clearly suggest that Sukma, located in the Bastar Division of Chhattisgarh, the epicenter of Maoist violence in the country, is the final bastion for the Maoists. The District occupies an area of 5635.79 square kilometres, with a population of 250,159 (Census 2011), and shares its borders with the Maoist-infested Bastar, Bijapur and Dantewada Districts of Chhattisgarh to the north and west; the Malkangiri District of Odisha to the east; and the Khammam District of Telangana to the South. Some 3,500 square kilometres of Sukma, more than 75 per cent of its total area, are under forest cover. The forest cover, terrain and location of the District have given the Maoists a sustained advantage in their campaigns to establish disruptive dominance and evade action by SFs.
The Maoists have suffered massive reverses, but remain relentless in their efforts to retain their hold in Sukma. On the other hand, the Government, with the help of SFs, is trying to build infrastructure, primarily focusing on roads, to provide better connectivity in order to extend welfare and development to the people. Sukma is among one of the least developed Districts in India. New roads would also enable SFs to further intensify their pressure on the Maoists. It is not a coincidence that the last two major incidents in the District, on March 11 and April 24, were both targeted against SFs deployed to provide security cover to road construction workers.
Indeed, claiming both these incidents, Maoists ‘spokesperson’ for the ‘Dand Karanya Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC)’ Vikalp, in an audio clip released on April 27, declared,
…The present ambush (at Burkapal on 24 April) is a continuation of the 11 March attack to protect our revolution… The roads, railway lines and mobile towers are being constructed for the protection of paramilitary forces and the police in these areas in the garb of providing relief to the common public, but it is being done to loot natural resources, to exploit common masses and to make sure easy transport of security forces (sic). To oppose this open loot and to make sure these resources are used for the welfare of the common public, these retaliatory attacks are being carried out.
While the State Government has made a great deal out of its road building efforts, in the strategically critical areas of the Bastar Division, its actual performance has been dismal. K.P.S. Gill, President, Institute for Conflict Management points to the “the political and administrative defalcation that underpins these recurrent tragedies”, and notes:
As Advisor (Security) to Chattisgarh in 2006, I travelled across thousands of kilometres of the worst Maoist-affected areas and recommended to the Government that three roads were strategically critical, and should be developed on a war footing. These were the Dornapal-Jagargonda link (the road on which the latest attack at Burkapal occurred), the Sukma-Konta road and the Narainpur-Orcha road, totalling a mere 200 kilometres. When the idea was first discussed with security and administrative officials at the lower level, there was great enthusiasm, and I was assured the money was available. When it was then taken up at higher levels in Raipur, the entire plan simply fizzled out.
Crucially, more than ten years later, not one of these roads has actually been completed and I am given to understand that well under 50 per cent of the work may have been done.
Despite their widening successes in anti-Maoist operations, moreover, Gill observes that a range of recurrent operational deficiencies have resulted in the repeated debacles that continue to afflict the SFs, and points, elsewhere, to the:
…structural and operational deficiencies of the Force (CRPF), including irrational and protracted deployments, inadequate training, almost no retraining, poor leadership, strategic and tactical stasis, fatigue and indiscipline, and an overwhelming posture of passive defence…
After decades of fighting the Maoists, such deficiencies in state responses are unacceptable, and continue to inflict tremendous hardships and suffering on the people of the insurgency-affected regions, and intolerable costs in lives on the SFs and on civilians, even as they yield opportunities for a potential Maoist resurgence.
* Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management