By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
A Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) trooper, Ashish Patra (29), was killed during an exchange of fire between Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres and Security Force (SF) personnel in the Chakarbandha Hills near Balthar village under Barachatti Tehsil (revenue unit) in Gaya District on January 2, 2018. According to sources, on January 1, after receiving specific intelligence regarding Maoists’ movement in the area, a search operation was launched by the SFs. On the next day (January 2), at around 3.30pm, an exchange of fire took place between the two sides in which the CRPF trooper sustained injuries and died later.
It was the first fatality recorded in this category (SFs) in the State, after a gap of almost one year and three months. The last SF fatality was registered on October 3, 2016, when three motorcycle-borne suspected CPI-Maoist cadres shot dead Quuam Ansari, the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of Kotchi Police Station, in Gaya District. The OIC was on a morning walk when the assailants attacked, killing him on the spot.
Remarkably, in 2017, SFs had achieved their best ever kill ratio against the Maoists, on year on year basis, since the formation of CPI-Maoist in 2004. They had killed nine Maoists without suffering a single loss in 2017. By contrast, in 2016, they had lost 15 of their own personnel, killing just nine Maoists.
Further, SFs arrested 98 Left Wing Extremists (LWEs) through 2017. The arrested cadres included three ‘area commanders’, one ‘zonal commander’, and one ‘secretary’ of the North Bihar Zonal Committee (NBZC) of the CPI-Maoist. Most recently, on December 14, 2017, Police arrested Manoj Sada, a CPI-Maoist ‘area commander’, active in Farakiya diara (riverine area) under Morkahi Police Station area in Khagaria District, was arrested from his hideout at Jhamakia Musahari by the Police. A pistol and some live cartridges were recovered from his possession. SFs arrested 104 Maoists in 2016.
Mounting SF pressure also led to the surrender of 17 LWEs in 2017, in addition to 24 surrenders in 2016. The cadres who surrendered in 2017 included Maheshi Yadav, a Maoist ‘zonal commander’ of the Morhar Nilanjan sub-zone. Yadav carried a reward of INR 50,000 on his head.
At least 25 incidents of recovery of arms and ammunition by SF personnel were reported in 2017. In a recent incident of recovery, on December 26, 2017, the Police seized an AK-47 rifle, a semi-automatic rifle, five country-made pistols, four revolvers and over 700 live cartridges during a raid at Tikarampur under the Mufassil Police Station in Monghyr District. There were 32 such instances of recovery in 2016.
Not surprisingly, the trend of declining fatalities in LWE)-linked violence established since 2011, with two exceptions in 2012 and 2016, was re-established in 2017. According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 24 persons, including 15 civilians and nine Maoists, were killed in the State in 2017, as against 32 persons, including eight civilians, 15 SF personnel and nine Maoists, killed in 2016. Significantly, 2015 had witnessed the lowest number of such fatalities, nine (four civilians, three SF personnel and two Maoists) recorded in the State since the formation of CPI-Maoist in September 2004. A lone fatality (SF, January 2) has been reported in the current year so far (data till January 7, 2018).
Unsurprisingly, on July 26, 2017, Rajiv Rai Bhatnagar, the Director General (DG) of the CRPF, claimed that the area controlled by CPI-Maoist had “shrunk in three States in the last two and a half years… There is substantial decline in areas controlled by Naxals [Left Wing Extremists (LWEs)] in Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal. Disturbances in these areas are very less…”
However, other parameters of violence suggest that the Maoists still retain a significant presence and operational capabilities. Fatalities among civilians are witnessing an increase in recent years. After, touching an all time low of four fatalities in this category in 2015, the lowest recorded in the State since the formation of CPI-Maoist in September 2004, it doubled to eight in 2016, and almost doubled further in 2017, reaching 15. Most recently, on December 18, 2017, CPI-Maoist cadres abducted and hacked to death two security guards of a private Construction Company in Jamui District.
In addition, the Maoists carried out three blasts in 2017, in addition to four in 2016. They attacked railway properties on at least three occasions each, in both these years. Also, they were found involved in 11 incidents of arson in 2017, and 10 in 2016. At least eight incidents of abduction (in which 18 persons were abducted) by Maoists were reported in 2017 as against just two incidents (in which six persons were abducted) in 2016.
The Maoists also issued six bandh (shut down strike) calls on different issues in 2017, in comparison to four such calls in 2016. The December 18-20, 2017, bandh witnessed the most violence, when an armed squad of about 15 CPI-Maoist cadres, including some women, carried out an attack at the Masudan Railway Station in the Jamalpur area of Monghyr District in the night of December 19, 2017, at around 11 pm. The Maoists set ablaze station property, including the signaling panel, hampering rail services, and abducted two railway employees present at the station – Assistant Station Master [ASM] Mukesh Paswan and porter Narendra Mandal. After the State Police and CRPF launched a joint search operation, the Maoists released the two men in a hilly area at Jamalpur. According to the SATP database, Bihar has accounted for at least 62 Maoist-linked attacks on the Railways since September 21, 2004 (data till January 7, 2018). These attacks have resulted in 25 deaths (nine civilians and 16 SF personnel) and 32 persons injured.
Meanwhile, according to CRPF sources, three pockets – the Jamui/Nawada/Giridih triangular section, the Gaya Aurangabad section, and the Lakhisarai/ Monghyr/ Banka/ Jamui section – still record significant CPI-Maoist influence. For instance, a report dated December 25, 2017, noted that three groups, each comprising of 20-25 CPI-Maoist cadres, were seen in the border areas of Banka District.
Disturbingly, splinter groups of the CPI-Maoist, such as the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI) and the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), mainly based in Jharkhand, also continues to made their presence felt in Bihar as well. On October 16, 2017, PLFI cadres shot dead a contractor after he refused to comply with extortion demands at Diha village under the Guraru Police Station area in Gaya District. Police said contractor Ramadhar Singh was allegedly shot dead by armed squad of the PLFI, after he refused to pay the “levy” demanded by them. On April 9, 2017, suspected cadres of the TPC, raided the construction site of Gas India Limited (GAIL), the agency engaged in laying gas pipeline passing through Gurua Police Station area of Gaya District of Bihar, and ‘ordered’ stoppage of work for the company’s failure to pay the ‘levy’ demanded by the outfit. On March 1, 2017, the TPC ‘zonal commander’ Anil Kushwaha aka Rakesh Mishra and 10 cadres killed one Jitendra Kharwar (18) over delay in serving them food in Rohtas District.
Meanwhile, according to a December 13, 2017, report, the Centre and the State Government have devised a strategy to combat the Maoist menace in Bihar. Under the new strategy, named ‘Mission 100’, hundred people will be identified and brought to book for their involvement in organised crime and Maoist activities. Under the ‘mission’, the central agencies would strike at the source of income (read extortion) of the Maoists and also confiscate the ill-gotten property of their strategists. The report stated further that in November 2017, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) initiated the process of attaching the property of two senior Maoists – Pradyuman Sharma aka Kundan, head of the Bihar-Jharkhand Special Area Committee (BJSAC)’s Magadh zone, and Sandeep Yadav aka Badka Bhaiya, in charge of the BJSAC’s Madhya zone. Yadav carries an INR 500,000 reward on his head in Bihar and INR 2.5 million in Jharkhand. Similarly, the Bihar Government has announced INR 50,000 on Sharma while he carries a reward of INR 500,000 in Jharkhand. Bihar’s Special Task Force (STF) disclosed that Sandeep and his family have accumulated assets worth INR 15.2 million, and Pradyuman and his family members have property worth more than INR 12.8 million. Inspector General of Police (Operations) Kundan Krishnan disclosed, “Sandeep’s wife Rajwanti Devi, who is enrolled as a contract teacher at a Banke Bazar (Gaya) primary school, has withdrawn salary of Rs 675,424 over the years but she does not go to the school. Such is Sandeep’s terror that no one has lodged a complaint on it so far. Rajwanti’s bank balance is Rs 749,546, which is disproportionate to her known sources of income.” The report also says Rajwanti owns a .66 acres plot in Gaya, valued at approximately INR 5 million, and a flat in Ranchi worth INR 3 million. Sandeep’s brother Dhan is also a Maoist. Meanwhile, Pradyuman and wife Shanti Devi have millions deposited in his bank, while their children study in expensive private institutions. His brother Pramod, resident of Hulasganj in Jehanabad District, reportedly owns 38 small- and medium-sized plots, mostly of agricultural land, said to be worth INR 5 million in all.
Further, the State has deployed 10 battalions of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) to fight LWEs. These include seven battalions of CRPF (five regular and two Commando Battalion for Resolute Action, CoBRA, battalions) and three battalions of Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB). Further, four helicopters have been stationed in the Ranchi District of neighboring Jharkhand for anti-Maoist operations in Bihar.
The fight still lacks critical muscle, as the Bihar Police continues to lag in terms of capacities to deal with the challenge. According to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, as on January 1, 2017, Bihar has 74.76 Police personnel per 100,000 population, the lowest in the country and far below the national average of 150.75. Bihar, however, fares better than the national average on Police/Area Ratio (number of policemen per 100 square kilometers) at 83.05, as against the national average of 60.83. In both these categories, the sanctioned strength for Bihar is much higher, at 107.73 and 119.67 respectively. Moreover, there are 42 vacancies of IPS officers in the State against the sanctioned strength of 231. An unnamed senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officer of the State disclosed on December 30, 2017, that among the 189 serving IPS officers in the Bihar cadre, 36 were on central deputation.
The Maoist rebels are persistent in their efforts to restore their sway in the State. The Administration, consequently needs to gear up and strengthen its responses – particularly in terms of State Police capacities – to neutralize the enduring Maoist challenge.
* Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management