By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On July 18, 2016, 10 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel belonging to the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) were killed and five others were injured in a Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) orchestrated Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast and encounter in the Chakarbanda-Dumarinala forests of Aurangabad District. Three Maoists were also killed in the encounter. Arms and ammunition, including an AK-47 rifle, Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) rifle and Under Barrel Grenade Launcher (UBGL), were also recovered from the encounter site. Commenting on the incident, Bihar Director General of Police (DGP) P.K. Thakur disclosed that eight paramilitary troopers were killed immediately and two of the five wounded died in a hospital.
In the preceding month, on June 19, 2016, a CRPF trooper, identified as A. Deka, was killed and two of his colleagues, identified as A.K. Yadav and K. Kakoti, were injured in an IED blast carried out by the Maoists near Bandhu Bigaha village in Aurangabad District. The Maoists triggered the blast when three personnel of the 205th CoBRA unit were riding on two motorcycles on their way to their camp from Bali Pahari locality.
Significantly, on January 11, 2016, while, commenting on the January 8, 2016, encounter in which four Maoists were killed in Bandh Gorya village under Dhibra Police Station area in Aurangabad District, the CPI-Maoist ‘central zonal spokesman,’ Paramjeet had threatened to avenge the killing. Later on, Maoists pamphlets found from Deo and Dhibra localities read:
“Char ka badla chalis se lenge, Operation Green Hunt band karo, comrade Bihari Yadav, Ratan Yadav, Devki Bhuiyan and Birendra Singh ko sat sat salaam.” English translation – [We will take revenge, forty for four, stop Operation Green Hunt, salutations to comrade Bihari Yadav, Ratan Yadav, Devki Bhuiyan and Birendra Singh]
Preliminary investigation of the Aurangabad Maoist attack suggested that the ultras were well prepared for the incident. They had lured the Security Forces (SFs) to the area by telephonically passing on false information. They had also planted hundreds of IEDs in advance, orchestrating a total of 352 land mine blasts on the fateful day. Giving further details about the incident, a senior Police official stated that, initially, the operation was launched on July 17 to arrest Sandeep Yadav, a dreaded Maoist, facing over 80 cases in Bihar and Jharkhand. Later, the Superintendent of Police (SP), Aurangabad District, joined the CoBRA team on July 18 with a team of the District Police and another CoBRA unit. However, it has been learnt that the team was heavily dependent on Global Positioning System (GPS) positioning and feedback but did not take the help of local intelligence.
The Aurangabad incident will go a long way in denting the morale of the SF personnel not just in Bihar but across all theatres of Left Wing Extremist (LWE) conflict in India. The manner in which the Maoists planned and trapped the SFs speaks volume of the hold the ultras enjoy in the region. Aurangabad along with Gaya and Jamui has been the epicentre of Maoist-violence in Bihar.
Aurangabad also finds place among the 35 worst Naxal (LWE) affected Districts in the country. The District’s geographical proximity with other Maoist affected Districts of the State and neighbouring Jharkhand makes it one of the preferred shelters for the Maoists in the region. Crucially, Jharkhand has 21 LWE affected Districts out of its total of 24 Districts.
In addition to these incidents of killing, the Maoists have also been involved in other violent activities in 2016, including abduction (one incident in which two persons were abducted), arson (seven incidents), bomb blasts (two occasions), attacks on railway property (one incident), among others, till July 24, in Bihar. During the corresponding period of 2015, the Maoists were involved in three incidents of abduction in which three persons were abducted, and two incidents of arson. No incident of bomb blast or attack on railway property was recorded during 2015.
Despite the alarm over the Aurangabad incident and the other violent activities in the State, the Maoists are under significant pressure. SF consolidation against the Maoists has been significant over a period of time, not just in Bihar but across the country. To overcome this situation they are striking wherever they can. Since October 2015, the Maoists in Chhattisgarh, in particular, have come under tremendous pressure, and the trend seems to be continuing in 2016. Out of the 132 Maoists killed in SF operations across LWE-affected States in India, 72 have been killed in Chhattisgarh alone. Jharkhand, the second most violent State after Chhattisgarh, also consolidated its position against LWEs with 27 rebels eliminated in the first six and half months of 2016. The situation in Odisha, Maharashtra and Bihar, widely varying, saw little violence during the corresponding period. On the other hand, the SF position against the Maoists in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana consolidated further. The Maoist endeavour to create new operational spaces in the trijunction of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka, received major jolts after the arrest of key leaders.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), 28 persons, including seven civilians, 13 SF personnel and eight Maoists, have been killed in Bihar in 2016 (till July 24), in comparison to seven persons, including three civilians, two SF personnel and two Maoists, killed in the corresponding period of 2015.
*Data updated till July 24, 2016
There is thus an overall declining trend in the fatalities in the State since 2011, with a spike in 2016. However, internal trends are inconsistent. The Maoist fatalities in 2016 are half of the peak of 16 fatalities in 2011. SF fatalities in 2016 are presently the same as the peak of 2013, while they were at a low of two in 2015 and 2012. Civilian fatalities were recorded at seven in 2016 in comparison to a peak of 20 fatalities in 2011.
Other indicators suggest continuing consolidation by SFs, despite the setback of July 18. Till July 24, 2016, SFs had arrested 66 Maoists in the State, including two CPI-Maoist ‘area commanders,’ two ‘zonal commanders’ and a ‘supreme commander’ of the Revolutionary Communist Centre (RCC). Two Maoists had also surrendered in the State during this period. It is significant that, since 2013, only 12 Maoists have surrendered in Bihar, in comparison to 1,278 in Chhattisgarh, another LWE-affected State in the country. This suggests that Bihar’s surrender policy is not bearing the desired result and that there is a need to review it.
Under the new surrender policy of 2013, the Bihar Government provides financial aides including INR 250,000 to top leaders who surrender; INR 10,000 as immediate assistance and INR 3,000 per month for rehabilitation, as well as rewards for each weapon surrendered. The updated 2015 Chhattisgarh Government surrender policy also provides compensation for ammunition and weapons, as well as housing for surrendered Naxals, and the possibility of all previous cases being removed from the record. It has also been hold that, upon surrender “the individual will be watched for six months and if his behaviour is deemed to be good” he will be liable for a government job. These additional features seem to be attracting more Maoists in Chhattisgarh to give up arms and join the mainstream.
SF personnel also recovered significant caches of arms, ammunition and explosives in Bihar. In one incident of recovery, the Special Task Force (STF) constituted by the Saran District Police recovered two rifles, a double barrel gun, a country-made rifle, 205 cartridges of 7.62 bore SLR with charge clip, two pressure cooker bombs with explosive materials, six SLR rifle magazines, 22 chargers, two detonators, handbills asking people not to participate in panchayat (Village level local-self government institution) election and INR 250,000 in cash from Baarhichak Dihee village under Maker Police Station on May 2, 2016. According to Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UHMA) data on comparative parameters of LWE violence (upto June 30 2016), 436 arms have been recovered in 2016 (till June 30) across all States, while, 330 arms were recovered in the corresponding period in 2015. No specific data on recovery of arms in Bihar is available.
Bihar has recorded three major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) in 2016 (till July 24) in which three civilians, 10 SF personnel and seven Maoists were killed, in comparison to no major incident registered in 2015. The major incidents of 2016 in the State were:
July 18: Ten CRPF personnel belonging to the 225th CoBRA battalion were killed and five were injured in a Maoist orchestrated IED blast in the forests of Aurangabad District. Three Maoists were also killed in the encounter.
May 21: CPI-Maoist cadres killed three villagers at Gadi village in Chakai area of Jamui District, branding all of them ‘Police informers’.
January 8: Four CPI-Maoist cadres were killed while one CoBRA trooper received bullet injuries in an exchange of fire between SFs and Maoists at Bandh Gorya village under Dhibra Police Station area in Aurangabad District.
Bihar Police continues to lag in terms of capacities to deal with evolving challenges created by the Maoists. According to the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) data, Bihar had 77 Police personnel per 100,000 populations, as on December 31, 2013, the worst ratio in the country, and far below the national average of 141. On July 27, 2016, in the 22nd meeting of Eastern Zonal Council at Ranchi in Jharkhand, various development schemes carried out in LWE-affected areas were assessed, and Bihar was found to be lagging in construction of fortified Police Stations. Out of the 45 sanctioned fortified Police Stations in Bihar, 40 are yet to be constructed. By comparison, in neighbouring Jharkhand, out of 73 sanctioned fortified Police Stations, only two were yet to be completed; in Odisha, out of 52 sanctioned fortified Police Stations, 18 remained to be constructed; and in West Bengal, out of 17 fortified Police Stations, just one was yet to be completed.
Bihar reels under the combined impact of backwardness, poverty and poor governance, which continue to create pools of potential violence in the region, and the Maoists have been quick to tap into these reserves. As demonstrated in the Aurangabad incident, the Maoists retain significant residual capacities to strike, and it would be a mistake to believe that SFs have made gains that will automatically be held. Indeed, in the present situation, it is only a redoubling of effort, with massive administrative initiatives to address welfare and developmental deficits in the afflicted areas, that can ensure a steady consolidation of the State, and the progressive marginalization LWE elements.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management