By Ajit Kumar Singh*
On March 25, 2018, three woman cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) were killed during an exchange of fire between Security Force (SF) personnel and the Maoists near Dokari Ghati under the Narayanpatna Police limits in the Koraput District of Odisha. SF personnel seized a cache of arms and ammunition from the location of the encounter.
On March 1, 2018, at least 10 CPI-Maoist cadres, including six women, and one Greyhounds constable were killed in an encounter near Pujarikanker, along the Chhattisgarh-Telangana border, in the Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh. SFs recovered one AK-47, one SLR [Self Loading Rifle], two single bore rifles, five INSAS [Indian Small Arms System] assault rifles, one .303 rifle, one pistol, three claymore mines, six rocket bombs, two solar plates, seven kit bags, a Sony radio, empty cartridges, live ammunition of different calibre, and INR 41,000 in cash from the encounter site.
On February 26, 2018, four CPI-Maoist cadres – identified as ‘sub-zonal commander’ Rakesh Bhuiyan, Lallu Yadav, Rinki and Ruby – were killed in an encounter with SFs in the Lalaghati-Naudiha area of the Palamu District of Jharkhand. SFs recovered two SLRs, five magazines and 219 bullets from the spot.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 41 Naxalites [Left Wing Extremists, LWEs] have been killed by the SFs during the current year, 2018 (data till March 31). During the corresponding period of 2017, SFs had eliminated 53 Naxalites. Through 2017, SFs had killed 149 Naxalites in addition to 244 killed in 2016.
According to data released by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), SFs arrested 1,888 Naxalites in 2017 as against 1,840 arrests in 2016. In 2018, as on March 15, 2018, the number of arrests stood at 395. Since March 16, 2018, according to SATP data, another 46 Naxalites have been arrested (data till March 31).
Through 2017, SFs recovered 591 arms from the Maoists, in addition to the 800 recovered in 2016, according to the UMHA data. During the current year, as on March 15, 2018, the number of such recoveries had stood at 155.
The mounting pressure on the Naxalites has resulted in a large number of surrenders over the past few years. According to UMHA data, at least 685 Naxalites surrender through 2017 in addition to 1,442 surrenders in 2016. During the current year, as on March 15, 2018, the number of surrenders was 78. Since March 16, 2018, on SATP data, another 79 Naxalites have surrendered (data till March 31).
Continuing SFs’ successes on the ground further improved the security situation through 2017. The trend of declining overall fatalities, on year on year basis, in Left Wing Extremism-related violence, established since 2011, though significantly reversed in 2016 and 2013, was re-established in 2017. According to the data released by UMHA, a total of 399 people (188 civilians, 75 SF personnel and 136 Naxalites) were killed in such violence through 2017, as against 500 fatalities (213 civilians, 65 SF personnel and 222 Naxalites) recorded in 2016. During the current year, as on March 15, the total number of such fatalities stood at 82 (24 civilians, 24 SF personnel and 34 Naxalites) as against 105 such fatalities (39 civilians, 29 SF personnel and 37 Naxalites) reported during the corresponding period of 2017.
Total fatalities in 2017, according to the SATP database, were 332 (109 civilians, 74 SF personnel and 149 Naxalites), as against 433 recorded in 2016 (123 civilians, 66 SF personnel and 244 Naxalites). In the current year 89 such fatalities (23 civilians, 25 SF personnel and 41 Naxalites) have been reported so far (data till March 30, 2018), as against 117 (33 civilians, 31 SF personnel and 53 Naxalites) reported during the corresponding period of 2016.
According to UMHA data, the number of civilian fatalities (188) recorded through 2017 was the second lowest in this category since 1999. A previous low of 171 was recorded in 2015. The maximum number of civilians killed in such violence, 720, was in 2010.
Though the number of fatalities among SFs increased from 65 in 2016 to 75 in 2017, according to UMHA data, the number of attacks on the Police (including landmine attacks) declined from 111 in 2016 to 84 in 2017, the lowest recorded since 2009. According to the SATP data, as against 41 incidents of killing of SFs recorded in 2016, there were 26 such incidents in 2017.
The number of Districts from where fatalities were reported declined from 42 in 2016 to 40 in 2017, according to SATP data. Civilian fatalities were reported from 33 Districts in 2017, as against 35 in 2016. Similarly, SF fatalities were reported from 12 Districts in 2017, as against 18 in 2016. The overall spread of Naxalite violence recorded a decline through 2017, with the number of Naxalism-affected Districts dropping from 104 in 13 States in 2016, to 100 districts in 12 States in 2017, based on SATP data. According to the UMHA, the number of districts from where violence was reported was 58 in 2017. No comparative data is available for year 2016. The number of total affected districts, according to the last official estimate released on July 18, 2017, was 106, including 35 worst-affected districts.
On March 17, 2017, though, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh reportedly told the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) that the number of Naxalite-affected Districts in the country had fallen to 68 from 106, the UMHA told the Lok Sabha on July 18, 2017, that 106 Districts in 10 Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected States continued to be covered under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme for the purpose of reimbursement of expenditure incurred by State Governments on counter-LWE operations. The inclusion/ exclusion of districts under the SRE scheme is based on their violence profile and other parameters and is a continuous process.
The number of major attacks (involving three or more fatalities) also declined from 33 in 2016 to 19 in 2017, according to SATP data. Of these 19 major incidents in 2017, 12 were initiated by SFs, resulting in the death of 52 Naxalites and six SF personnel. The Naxalites initiated five incidents, resulting in the killing of 52 persons: 45 SF personnel, six civilians, and one Naxalite. Two major incidents of internecine clashes resulted in the death of 10 Naxalites. The Naxalites had initiated 10 major incidents in 2016, resulting in 49 deaths: 19 civilians, 27 SF personnel and three LWEs.
Meanwhile, UMHA data also indicated that the number of overall Naxalism-linked incidents which had been declining since 2010, came down further in 2017: 2,258 incidents in 2009; 2,213 in 2010; 1,760 in 2011; 1,415 in 2012; 1,136 in 2013, 1,091 in 2014; 1,089 in 2015; 1,048 in 2016; 908 in 2017; and 178 in 2018, up to March 15, 218.
On March 24, 2018, speaking on the occasion of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)’s 79th Raising Day, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, thus stated:
Maoism has become a serious challenge… but because of the gallant and determined action of the CRPF and other Forces, these incidents have come down drastically. I can say that the LWE problem in the country has entered its last leg…
Earlier, on March 21, 2018, Rao Inderjit Singh, Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for the Ministry of Planning and Minister of State in the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, reiterated in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament) that “the Government of India has a strategy and action plan to deal with the problem of Maoist insurgency with balanced and holistic multi-pronged interventions in the areas of security & development”. He elaborated:
MHA [UMHA] is supporting the State Governments extensively by way of Central Armed Police Force, Helicopter support, India Reserve Battalions etc. As part of capacity building of the State Police Forces, funds are being provided under different schemes including Security Related Expenditure (SRE), Modernisation of Police Forces (MPF) and Special Infrastructure Scheme (SIS). Training assistance and intelligence sharing is also being carried out… Development interventions are made through provision of resources and focused implementation of schemes of the various Ministries of the Government of India that supplements the State initiatives. These include Centrally Sponsored Schemes as well as Central Sector Scheme. Several important initiatives have been undertaken for development of LWE areas. These initiatives include, Road Requirement Plan (RRP-I), Road Connectivity Project for LWE Affected Areas (RRP-II), Mobile tower connectivity, Financial inclusion…
While these measures have, indeed, helped in the fight against the Maoist menace, existing shortcomings in these declared measures continue to create impediments to the process of bringing the problem to a conclusive end. For instance, the fund released [LINK: DOCUMENT] for modernizing State Police Forces (in 10 Maoist-affected States) under the Modernisation of Police Forces (MPF) scheme has declined considerably over the past four Financial Years (FY): INR 6376.4 million (2014-15); INR 3147.8 million (2015-16); INR 2020.1 million (2015-16); INR 1453.0 (2017-18). The States covered under this program include: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal.
Stark deficits are noticeable in some of the worst afflicted States. According to the Bureau of Police Research & Development (BPR&D), as on January 1, 2017, there were at least 126 Police Stations in Chhattisgarh, the worst Naxalism-affected State, which did not have a vehicle. Similarly, the second worst affected State, Jharkhand, had 23 such Police stations. The number of Police Stations without telephones in these two States was 23 and 64, respectively.
Moreover, large vacancies persist in the State Police Forces. According to BPR&D data, as on January 1, 2017, there were a total of 538,237 vacant posts in State Police Forces. In 2016, the number of vacant posts was 549,025. Though the number of sanctioned posts, against which the vacancies existed, were increased from 2,280,691 in 2016 to 2,464,484 in 2017, projected populations have increased by an estimated 14.8 million. The number of vacancies in the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) was 938, as on January 1, 2017. Moreover, the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), which have been increasingly used in fight against the Naxalites, also continue to witness huge vacancies: 110,081 vacant posts as on January 1, 2017, against a sanctioned strength of 1,154,393 (actual strength: 1,044,312).
The Maoists are certainly losing their influence across the country. What was once envisaged as a ‘tactical retreat’ has transformed into sustained strategic reverses. The Naxalites, however, still remain a significant threat, retaining the wherewithal to carry out sporadic ‘spectacular attacks’ targeting SFs. There is urgent need to sustain, indeed, heighten pressure at this stage, and consolidate the gains secured at the cost of enormous SF sacrifices by addressing long neglected issues of civil administration, development and welfare. As long as gross deficits of governance persist, the potential for a revival of conflict – under the existing LWE banners, or in new guise – will endure.
* Ajit Kumar Singh
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management