India: Lingering Dangers In Maharashtra – Analysis


By Deepak Kumar Nayak

On November 24, 2023, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres dragged a tribal farmer, Ramji Chinna Atram (28), to a ‘people’s court’ (kangaroo court held by the Maoist rebels), and shot him at point-blank range, in Kapewancha village in the Aheri Tehsil (revenue unit) of Gadchiroli District. A handwritten note left by the Maoists alleged that Atram was a ‘police informer’ and a woman Maoist had been killed in an encounter with Security Forces (SFs) due to inputs provided by him. On September 30, 2022, a woman CPI-Maoist cadre, whose identity is yet to be ascertained, was killed in an encounter between the SFs and the Maoists in the Kapewancha Forests of the Aheri subdivision in Gadchiroli District. 

On November 23, 2023, a C-60 commando’s father, who worked as a Police Patil (warden), was abducted from his home at Titola village in Etapalli Taluka (revenue division) and bludgeoned to death with boulders by the Maoists in Gadchiroli District. The Police warden, Lalsu Dhingra Velda (55), was accused by the Maoists of tipping off the Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) of Hedri subdivision and acting as an agent of mining firms, according to the Maoist pamphlet signed by the Gatta Local Organisational Squad (LOS) of the Dandakaranya region. 

On November 16, 2023, a 32-year-old tribal youth, Dinesh Gawde, was found dead in Morkhande village in the Mulchera Taluka of Gadchiroli District. Dinesh was abducted by Maoists late on November 15. The Maoists accused him of being a ‘police informer’. A resident of Aheri, Dinesh was in Morkhandi to play volleyball. He was abducted while returning to his native village.

According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least four civilians have been killed in Gadchiroli since the beginning of the current year, thus far (all data till December 3, 2023). During the corresponding period of 2022, five civilians had been killed, and no further killing was reported in the remaining period of 2022. There were four civilian killings in 2021 and 2020. 2019, however had recorded 18 fatalities, the highest since the 36 (the preceding high) recorded in 2011. There were 18 fatalities in 2012 as well. Significantly, since March 6, 2000, when SATP, started compiling data on Left Wing Extremism (LWE) in India, at least 191 civilians have been killed in the district. 

No trooper has been killed in Gadchiroli in the current year, as in 2022. The last SF fatality was recorded on August 14, 2020, when a Police Constable, Dushyant Nandeshwar (26), was killed while another Constable was injured when a CPI-Maoist ‘action team’ shot at them in a market in Kothi village under Bhamragad Tehsil in the Gadchiroli District. Since March 6, 2000, a total of 166 SF personnel, have been killed in the district, including a maximum of 52 such killings in 2009 alone. 

Four Maoists have been killed in the district in the current year. During the corresponding period of 2022, two Maoists were killed, and no further killing was reported in the remaining period of 2022. A maximum of 51 such killings were documented in 2018, while a low of one such fatality was recorded in 2002. A total of 322 Maoist fatalities have been documented in Gadchiroli district since March 6, 2000. 

Thus, Gadchiroli has recorded a total of 691 LWE-extremism linked fatalities since March 6, 2000, including 191 civilians, 166 SF personnel, 322 Naxalites and 12 in the Not Specified (NS) Category (data till December 3, 2023). During this period, Maharashtra state recorded a total of 707 fatalities (200 civilians, 170 SF personnel, 325 Naxalites and 12 NS]. Other than Gadchiroli, the Gondia district recorded seven fatalities [five civilians (one each in 2009, 2013, 2019 and two in 2012) and two SF personnel (one each in 2006 and 2011)]; followed by Bhandara, three fatalities [two SF fatalities in 2003 and one civilian in 2010]; Nagpur, two fatalities [one civilian in 2001 and one Maoist in 2011]; and one civilian fatality in Aurangabad in 2012. The specific location of three fatalities in the state could not be confirmed. 

Meanwhile, search operations and combing raids have resulted in the arrest of 355 Maoists in the District since March 6, 2000, including five arrests recorded in the current year, according to SATP data. Besides, mounting SF pressure has also led to the surrender of 269 Maoists since 2000, including three in 2023. The SFs recovered arms on at least five occasions in 2023, compared to four such incidents in the corresponding period of 2022. There were no further incidents of this kind recorded in the remaining 30 days of 2022.

Gadchiroli, situated on the North-Eastern side of Maharashtra State, bordering Telangana and Chhattisgarh, covers a total of 14,412 square kilometres, of which 78.40 per cent (around 11,694 square kilometres) is under forest cover. The district borders four districts – Bijapur, Kanker, Narayanpur, and Rajnandgaon – in Chhattisgarh, the worst Naxal-affected districts of the country; as well as two Maoist affected Districts – Adilabad and Karimnagar – of Telangana. The district is divided into six Sub-Divisions i.e., Gadchiroli, Chamorshi, Aheri, Etapalli, Desaiganj and Kurkheda respectively and each sub-division has two talukas. The eastern part of district, i.e., Dhanora, Etapalli, Aheri and Sironcha talukas; are under dense forest cover. Bhamragadh, Tipagad, Palasgad and Surjagarh are the hilly areas of the district. The geographical juxtaposition of steep hills and deep forests provides ideal terrain for the Maoists to operate, and make it a grueling task for the SFs to take on the insurgents.

Nevertheless, as the data indicates, the SFs have succeeded in establishing dominance and a semblance of peace in the district. However, the recent civilian killings suggest that the Maoists seek to re-establish their terror over the section of the population that sides with the government and consequently creates hindrances for their efforts to revive the movement.

According to a November 24, 2023, report, these efforts include taking projections that the Maoists are fighting for the rights of citizens, by calling for a ‘Gadchiroli bandh’ (general shut down strike) on November 30, in protest against Police action to disperse anti-mining protesters at Todgatta village in the Etapalli Tehsil of Gadchiroli District. The CPI-Maoist ‘western sub-zonal bureau’ called for the bandh. In the morning of November 20, 2023, a huge Police contingent allegedly surrounded and destroyed the site at Todgatta in Gadchiroli District, where protesters from over 70 Adivasi villages had been peacefully agitating for the last eight months, against the six proposed and auctioned iron-ore mines in the district’s Surjagarh area. 

Earlier, on September 19, 2023, the Maoists threatened Maharashtra Food and Drugs Minister Dharmaraobaba Bhagwantrao Atram in a pamphlet found in Gadchiroli District, over the Surjagarh steel project. Atram is the Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Aheri in the Gadchiroli District. The pamphlet, from Shrinivas of the Maoists’ ‘Paschim Sub Zonal Bureau’, accused Atram and his kin of being “agents” of the Surjagarh steel project and appealed to people to protest against them. It also warned the minister to stop “anti-people work.” 

Meanwhile, a July 15, 2023, report noted that 1,200 new Maoist recruits were being trained in the bordering districts of Chhattisgarh, a matter of potential concern for Gadchiroli.

To counter the re-emerging threats, according to a November 21, 2023, report, more than 2,000 SF personnel erected a ‘ballistics-proof’ Police post at Wangeturi village in the Etapalli Taluka of Gadchiroli District. This Police post covers 19 villages in Etapalli Taluka, and will help C-60 commandos conduct road-opening missions on foot, to avert ambushes or Maoist boobytraps while crossing into Maharashtra from the Chhattisgarh side during joint inter-state ‘sanitization’ operations. Speaking on the occasion, Gadchiroli Superintendent of Police (SP), Neelotpal noted,

It was a historic counter-insurgency operation as the security forces conducted a 105km road-opening mission and crossed into Maharashtra from Chhattisgarh. The forested stretch in and around Wangeturi will also serve as a strategic link with the security headquarters at Abhujmadh region of Dandakaranya, straddling two states, which was till now a no-man’s land, offering seamless transit to Maoists.

In a renewed effort to prevent the youth from joining Maoist ranks, on April 7, 2023, the Police and local administration, under the guidance of SP Neelotpal, set up a library with Wi-Fi facilities at the Nargunda village in Gadchiroli District under the ‘Ek Gaon-Ek Vachanalaya’ (library in every village) initiative, with more than 150 books, aimed at helping students. On March 9, 2023, CPI-Maoist cadres had shot dead a tribal youth, Sainath Narote (26), who was preparing for competitive exams, on suspicion of being a ‘Police informer’, at Mardhur village of the Bhamragarh Taluka under Nargunda Police Station limits in Gadchiroli District. 

Security Forces consolidation in Gadchiroli has been instrumental in keeping the Maoist threat under control, though the rebels continue to look for every possible opportunity for restoration of their losing influence. The Maoists are yet to be written off from the region, and it remains imperative, for both State and Union governments to ensure that adequate action is taken to contain the residual Maoist threat.

  • Deepak Kumar Nayak
    Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management


SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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