By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
In the early hours of November 7, 2019, a constable of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), identified as Kamata Prasad, was killed during an encounter with cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), in Jerapalli village, Bijapur District. Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIGP) of Bastar division, anti-Naxal [Left Wing Extremism, LWE] operation, Sundarraj P, disclosed that the gun-battle took place at around 4am [IST] when a joint team of the CRPF and its elite unit CoBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action), was carrying out a search operation in the Pamed area. When the patrolling team was cordoning off a forest area near Jerapalli village, a group of Maoists opened fire, leading to a gunfight, in which constable Kamta Prasad sustained injuries, and later died.
On October 12, 2019, CPI-Maoist cadre killed a 32-year-old man in Bijapur District, after accusing him of being a ‘police informer’. The body of the victim, identified as Parke Kristaiyya, was spotted by locals, lying on a road near Dudheda-Nayapara village under Tarlaguda Police Station limits, with a Maoist leaflet nearby in which the Madded Area Committee of the CPI-Maoist had claimed responsibility for the killing. The Maoists alleged that Kristaiyya had continued to help the Police despite being warned several times.
On October 11, 2019, a CPI-Maoist cadre was killed in an exchange of fire with Security Forces (SFs) in a forest near Tekmetla village under Usoor Police Station limits in Bijapur District. When a joint squad of the 229th CRPF Battalion and local Police were cordoning off a forested area, a gun-battle broke out between the two sides. Although, the rebels disappeared into the dense forest, the SFs recovered the body of the slain Maoist along with a muzzle-loading gun. The identity of the slain Maoist is yet to be ascertained.
14 incidents of Maoist-linked killing have been recorded in Bijapur since the beginning of 2019, thus far (data till November 10, 2019), according to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP). During the corresponding period in 2018, at least 25 such incidents of killing resulting in 57 fatalities (six civilians, 12 SF personnel, and 39 Maoists) had been recorded. Another, eight such incidents of killing resulting in 13 fatalities (one civilian, and 12 Maoists) were recorded in the remaining period of 2018.
Bijapur, one of the twenty-seven Districts of Chhattisgarh, was carved out of Dantewada as a separate District on May 11, 2007. Since then, the District has recorded at least 719 fatalities (170 civilians, 222 SF personnel, 322 Maoists and five fatalities which remained unspecified), as compared to 2,583 fatalities (596 civilians, 950 SF personnel, 1,014 Maoists and 23 fatalities which remained not specified) registered in the State (data till November 10, 2019). Thus, Bijapur accounts for a significant 27.83 per cent of the total fatalities recorded in the State, and 10.62 per cent of the total fatalities recorded in the country [total overall India fatalities during this period stood at 6,770 (2,581 civilians, 1,695 SF personnel, 2,421 Maoists, and 73 fatalities which remained not specified)].
An analysis of the fatalities data suggests that the overall SF: Maoist kill ratio is in favour of the SFs at 1:1.45. However, it was in the favour of the Maoists at 1.4:1 in the current year, so far. The ratio has been in favour of the Maoists in two earlier instances: in 2007, the ratio was 4.9:1; and civilian fatalities, at 34 were also at a peak; and in 2011, at 1.28:1. In the following year, civilian fatalities also increased from 10 in 2011 to 17 in 2012. Worryingly, in the current year, with the SF:Maoist ratio favouring the Maoists, civilian fatalities have also reached their highest level since 2014, when they were 10.
Incidents of killing had also increased from 25 in 2017 to 33 in 2018. 14 such incidents have already been recorded in 2019. Similarly, violent incidents also increased from 73 in 2017 to 84 in 2018, and 41 such incidents have been registered in 2019, till date. Major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities) increased from one in 2017 to five in 2018. One such incident has been recorded in 2019. Overall fatalities increased from 29 in 2017 to 69 in 2018, and 20 fatalities have been recorded in 2019.
Unsurprisingly, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), while assessing the LWE situation, had listed Bijapur among the eight worst LWE-affected Districts in Chhattisgarh and the 30 worst-affected Districts identified by UMHA across the country, in 2018. More recently, on February 5, 2019, UMHA listed Bijapur among the 14 Districts of Chhattisgarh affected by LWE, among the 90 Districts in 11 States, affected across the country.
Bijapur, spread over a geographical area of 6,562.48 square kilometres, of which around 1,848.07 square kilometres (28 per cent of its total area) is under forest cover, has tremendous geo-strategic importance for the Maoists, falling under the formidable Abujhmadh forest region (which spreads over 3,900 square kilometres), and the troubled Bastar Division, a major challenge for Chhattisgarh, which is still the worst LWE-affected area in the country. The geographical proximity with the Maoist-afflicted Narayanpur District (Chhattisgarh) to the North; Bastar District (Chhattisgarh) to the North-east; Dantewada District (Chhattisgarh) to the east; Sukma District (Chhattisgarh) to the South-east; Karimnagar, Warangal and Khammam Districts of Telangana on the south; and Gadchiroli District of Maharashtra on the West, makes it a critical strategic trijunction for the Maoists.
According to an October 9, 2019, report, the Dandakaranya region, particularly the three Districts of south Bastar — Bijapur, Dantewada and Sukma — remains the most formidable stronghold of the Maoists, as also their main recruiting ground.
The result is that the security situation in the District has always been a challenge. Despite this, acts of negligence on the part of the State Government persist. For instance, a July 19, 2019, report, indicated that Chhattisgarh had failed to utilize the funds collected under the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) trust for the Maoist-affected areas of the State. INR 622 million was collected under the DMF in Bijapur District, a major part of which is witnessing Maoist violence. Of this amount, authorities could utilize INR 244 million. Such a lackadaisical approach on the part of the political and administrative establishments mar the sacrifices of the SFs, who have brought much relief to the region, as compared to the peak levels of insecurity during the 2007 and 2009 period.
According to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, as on January 1, 2018, the Police/Area Ratio (number of policemen per 100 square kilometres) in Chhattisgarh was 44.15, as against the national average of 61.31. This is well below the sanctioned ratio of 52.97 for the State. In addition, the sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State is 142, but just 91 officers were in position, considerably weakening executive direction of the Force. Worryingly, of a total of 453 Police Stations, 131 Police Stations in the State have no vehicles, and 41 have no telephones.
An October 9, 2019, report noted that, for Bijapur, Narayanpur and Sukma, a combined area of more than 19,373.43 square kilometres, there were only 50 mobile towers. Such a deficiency in communications infrastructure has an adverse impact on the operational capability of SFs and the intelligence network. Mobile phone towers significantly increase the flow of intelligence from core areas.
Maoist violence in Bijapur has, no doubt, declined, as is the wider case across Chhattisgarh as well as India at large. This has been the result of sustained efforts by SFs. What is needed now is the political and administrative will to ensure the restoration of civil governance in the areas recovered through SF action, as well as an intensification of efforts to push the Maoists out of their remaining safe havens.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management