By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On January 12, 2017, two civilians, Ramesh Atala (27) and Manohar Atala (55), were killed by Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres in Gadchiroli District. A Gadchiroli Police statement disclosed that the Maoists shot the victims claiming they were ‘police informers’.
On January 5, 2017, a surrendered Naxalite [Left Wing Extremist (LWE)] was allegedly killed by Maoist cadres at Kehakavi village in the Dhanora tehsil (revenue unit) of Gadchiroli District. The victim, Sukhram Lalchu Wadde (35), had surrendered before the Police in July 2016. According to the Police, the CPI-Maoist cadres were angry as Sukhram had turned himself in.
On the same day, Security Forces (SFs) killed the ‘deputy commander’ of Kasansur dalam (squad), Jyoti Gawade aka Sagobai Narsingh, in an encounter near Gyarapati of Gadchiroli District. According to reports, SFs had launched an operation on January 4, 2017, following information about the presence of Maoists in the area. SFs spotted Jyoti’s dalam members, following which a battled ensued in which she was killed. Other Maoist cadres, however, managed to escape.
As a result, at least four persons, including three civilians and one Maoist, have been killed in Maharashtra in LWE/CPI-Maoist-linked incidents in the current year (data till January 26, 2017), according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP).
According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) data, at least 28 fatalities (16 civilians, three SF personnel and nine Maoists) were recorded in the state in 2016 (data till November 15) as against 20 fatalities (16 civilians, two SF personnel and two Maoists) in 2015, an increase of 40 per cent, which reversed the trend of declining fatalities in such violence recorded in the state since 2012. Maharashtra had accounted for 57 fatalities in 2011, 45 fatalities each in 2012 and 2013, and 38 in 2014.
More worryingly, at least 19 civilians were killed through 2016. [According to the UMHA data, at least 16 civilians were killed between January 1, 2016, and November 15, 2016. Another three civilians were killed between November 16, 2016, and December 31, 2016, according to the SATP database]. Three villagers, identified as Laccha Bande Madavi (36), Patali Doge Atram (36), and Talwarsha Kunjram, were killed by Naxalites in Aheri and Korchi tehsils of Gadchiroli District on the suspicion of being ‘police informers’ on December 29. The total number of civilian fatalities was 16 (UMHA data) through 2015 as well as in 2014. Fatalities in this category had stood at 13 in 2013, down from 27 in 2012. The highest number of civilian fatalities, 44, was registered in 2011 (UMHA data).
The surge in civilian fatalities coincides with an improvement in SFs’ success ratio against the Maoists on the ground. An analysis of fatalities in these two categories – the SFs and the Maoists – according to UMHA data available since 2003, shows that SFs in 2016 achieved a positive kill ratio in their fight against the Maoists in Maharashtra – at 1:3 (nine Maoists killed as against three SF personnel) – for the first time since 2013. Two SF personnel and two Maoists were killed in 2015 (kill ratio 1:1). With 12 SF personnel and 10 Maoists killed in 2014, the ratio was 1:1.2, in favour of the Maoists. In 2013, however, SFs had killed 26 Maoists while losing six of their own personnel, yielding a positive ratio of 1:4.3.
While the trend is erratic, over all Maoist arrests have risen. UMHA data indicates that at least six Maoists were arrested in 2016 (up to November 15) adding to 20 arrested through 2015; 18 in 2014; and 38 in 2013. In one such incident on September 17, 2016, Ranu Usendi, a Maoist ‘commander’, was arrested from his village Javeli in Raigad District, where he had come to attend a family programme. Ranu had joined the rebel movement in 2005. In another incident on May 23, 2016, Lakhan aka Mohan, carrying a bounty of INR 30,000 on his head and wanted in connection with a 2008 case wherein a group of 10 Maoists had set two bamboo laden trucks on fire, was arrested from Gondiya District.
In addition, at least 45 LWEs gave up arms in 2016 (up to November 15), as against 25 in the corresponding period of 2015. Total surrenders through 2015 stood at 29. There were 43 surrenders in 2014 and 53 in 2013. While mounting SF pressure is one of the major reasons behind these surrenders, another is the past success of the official surrender policy, which the Maharashtra Government has extended up to August 28, 2017. The latest surrender policy carries a cash reward of up to INR 500,000.
The adverse situation faced by the Maoists has resulted in a decline of activities on the ground. Maharashtra registered 66 Maoist-linked incidents in 2016 (up to November 15, UMHA data), as against 55 such incidents in the corresponding period of 2015. No incidents were recorded in 2015 thereafter. At their peak, Maharashtra, had accounted for 154 such incidents in 2009. Similarly, Maoists were involved in attacking economic targets on just two occasions through 2016, as compared to seven such attacks in 2015, four in 2014, and six in 2013. Most recently, Jyoti, the Maoist ‘deputy commander,’ killed on January 5, 2017, had allegedly led the arson attack on December 23, 2016, in which 76 trucks, three J.C. Bamford (JCB) Excavators and one motorcycle were burnt by the Maoists at the Surjagarh mines in Gadchiroli District. According to the Gadchiroli Police, around 500 rebels had stormed the site and assaulted an unspecified number of truck drivers and labourers, kept them confined, and set ablaze the trucks and earthmovers. The Surjagarh mines are one of the biggest iron-ore mines in the District.
Despite significant gains, the Maoist threat persists. Gadchiroli District, which according to the SATP database recorded all the 26 fatalities of 2016, and all 17 fatalities in 2015, continues to remain the epicenter of Maoist violence in the State. Two other Districts of Maharashtra – Chandrapur and Gondiya – though they did not register a single fatality in 2016 and 2015 (SATP data), continue to be listed among the 106 Naxal-affected Districts by UMHA. Significantly, Gadchiroli shares borders with both Chandrapur and Gondiya, as well as with Bhandra (all in Maharashtra). More worryingly, it shares borders with four Districts of Chhattisgarh [Bijapur, Kanker, Narayanpur and Rajnandgaon] and two Districts of Telangana [Adilabad and Karimnagar], all Maoist-afflicted. Three of these four districts in Chhattisgarh (excluding Rajnandgaon) form part of the Bastar Division, one of the worst Maoist affected regions in the country. Further, Gadchiroli has a 75.96 per cent forest cover, making the task of locating and neutralising Maoist hideouts quite difficult.
The CPI-Maoist in Maharashtra had issued a ‘hit list’ of 37 persons, including senior Police officers and ‘police informers’, vowing to eliminate them in 2016. Accordingly, the Maoists had detailed units of ‘Company-10’, trained to kill with precision, from Chhattisgarh. An intelligence note claimed, “This [the latest hit list] is a matter of serious concern for the State (Maharashtra), even as inputs show new strategies are being adopted to attract youth with fresh vigour.” It is not clear how many on the list have been killed.
Meanwhile, according to Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) 2016 data (as on January 1, 2016), though Maharashtra’s Police-population ratio, at 147.3 per 100,000, is significantly higher than the national average of 137.11, it remains substantially lower than the minimum of 220/100,000 ratio regarded as desirable for ‘peacetime policing’. Further, the State has 176,044 Policemen, as against a sanctioned strength of 191,143, leaving 7.89 per cent of sanctioned posts vacant. The Police/Area Ratio (number of Policemen per 100 square kilometers) for Maharashtra is 57.21, as against the sanctioned strength of 62.12. The all-India ratio is 54.69, as against a sanction of 72.03 per 100 square kilometres.
The Maharashtra Police requires far more personnel, as well as a substantially larger allocation of other resources, to deal effectively with the challenge of the Maoist insurgency. Regretfully, on January 22, 2017, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) (Special Operations), Bipin Bihari, acknowledged, “With only 15 outdated night vision cameras, which are seldom of any use, we were reduced to conducting night operations merely banking on ground experience, making the force vulnerable.” Moreover, at the level of Police leadership, according to the UMHA data on the shortage of IPS officers, there is a 20.52 per cent deficiency in the number of IPS officers in position (as of January 1, 2016) in the State.
Both the central and state Governments have failed to address these issues and deficits. Despite this, SFs have managed to secure relative peace in the State. Whether this is sustainable, however, will depend on political sagacity, a commodity often in short supply.
* Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management