By Indrajit Sharma*
On January 5, 2021, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres killed a civilian, identified as Vinod Madavi (25), on suspicion of being a ‘Police informer’ at Kothi Tola village in the Bhamragad tehsil (revenue unit) of Gadchiroli District. The Maoists barged into Madavi’s house, forcibly took him away to a forested area and hacked him to death.
The previous civilian killing in the State was reported on July 10, 2020, when CPI-Maoist cadres killed Munshi Tado (28), after accusing him of being a ‘Police informer’ at Bhamragad Village in Gadchiroli District.
Through 2020, four civilian fatalities were recorded. There were 19 fatalities in this category in 2019. Civilian fatalities, a key index of security, thus registered a 78.94 per cent decline.
The Security Forces (SFs) secured a much stronger position on the ground, with SF fatalities falling dramatically from 15 in 2019 to three in 2020. Maoist fatalities also fell from 17 to nine. The SF:Maoist kill ratio worked out at 1:3 in 2020, a significant improvement over 2019, at 1:1.13. Meanwhile, at least 10 Maoists were arrested in 2020, in addition to 12 such arrests in 2019. Three Maoists surrendered in 2020, in addition to 34 such surrenders in 2019.
In terms of overall fatalities, according to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Maharashtra recorded 16 fatalities through 2020 as compared to 51 fatalities in 2019, registering a decline of 68.62 per cent. So far, just one (civilian) fatality has been recorded in 2021 (data till February 14).
Other parameters of Maoist-linked violence also indicate significant improvement in the security situation. Overall Maoist-linked incidents fell from 60 in 2019 to 26 in 2020. Incidents of killing fell from 22 in 2019 to 11 in 2020.
Fatalities in 2020 were recorded from one District – Gadchiroli, while two Districts – Gadchiroli (50 fatalities) and Gondia (one fatality) – recorded fatalities in 2019.
On January 28, 2021, the Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh, during his visit to Gadchiroli District, stated,
It’s only because of the C-60 commandos that Naxal [Left Wing Extremist, LWE] threat is diminishing in the District. The C-60 commandos with their successful operations have a firm stranglehold on the Naxals.
The Minister also granted an increase in the special allowance for the C-60 commandos, working in Naxal-affected areas, from INR 4,000 to INR 8,000 per month.
As part of the anti-Naxal campaign, on December 15, 2020, the Maharashtra Home Department sanctioned INR 500 million to strengthen infrastructure across the State. Out of the sanctioned amount, a first instalment of INR 56.2 million was released to build 20 additional Police Stations in Gadchiroli District.
Moreover, to consolidate improvements in the security scenario, the State Police have undertaken several initiatives focusing on the empowerment of tribal masses in the affected areas. including the Gadchiroli District.
According to a February 5, 2021, report, as a part of its ‘Agri Tourism’ project, the Gadchiroli Police flagged off a bus with 42 women from the Maoist-affected Kotmi and Etawahi villages of Etapalli taluka in the District. The project envisages empowering farmers with the knowledge of best farming practices. The project is aimed at poverty alleviation of a population that the Maoists target as their potential recruitment base. Gadchiroli Police had earlier sent villagers, especially students, on tours with a view to expose them to government-propelled development and growth elsewhere in the State. However, the Police have broadened their concept to theme-based tours, incorporating exposure to best farming practices.
According to an October 14, 2020, report, Police enrolled as many as 95 farmers in groups of 15 to 20 per batch from villages of Pomke Yerkad, Murumgaon, Savargaon, Katezari and Gyarapatti in the Maoist-affected and tribal areas of Gadchiroli, to teach them modern farming techniques. The initiative has been taken by the Gadchiroli Police in order to ensure that government benefits reach sensitive areas that have been living under the Naxal threat. Ankit Goyal, the Superintendent of Police (SP) of Gadchiroli, thus observed,
This is being done to give farmers the necessary exposure and teach them modern farming techniques to improve the yield which would help them financially. Due to the present farming methods adopted by the farmers, they do not get their due and are facing financial crises for the entire year. The Maoists have been opposing the government benefits to reach the farmers and hence this is an effort to provide them succor.
Nonetheless, the improved security situation in the State does not imply that the Maoist threat is over.
Worryingly, three Districts – Gondia, Nagpur, and Gadchiroli – in Maharashtra fall into what is designated as the CPI-Maoist’s ‘Maharashtra-Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh (MMC) zone’, where the Naxalites have been engaged in efforts to set up a base similar to ‘Dandakaranya (DK) Special Zonal Committee (DKSZC)’ in the Bastar Division of Chhattisgarh. Establishment of such a ‘zone’ would make the area suitable for guerrilla warfare.
According to a June 15, 2020, report, the ‘MMC zone’ is presently headed by a ‘central committee (CC)’ member of CPI-Maoist – Milind Baburao Teltumbde aka Deepak Teltumbde aka Jeeva – and he has been entrusted to create a new territory that allows Maoists easy passage from east to west and vice-versa, and a safe haven for senior rebel leaders. The report further revealed that Teltumbde had been visiting the ‘MMC zone’ regularly and had recruited about 200 locals for a ‘commando unit’, called ‘Vistaar Dalam’ (expansion squad), of ‘MMC’.
Moreover, a document seized by Gadchiroli Police, during an anti-Maoist operation (date unspecified) Maoist suggests that the Maoists have no plans to shift their base from the forested and hilly Abujhmadh region (Abujhmadh literally means ‘unknown terrain’) close to the ‘MMC zone’. The seized document stated, that “last blood would be shed at Abujhmadh”, implying the Maoists’ plan to make their last stand in the region. Gadchiroli covers parts of Abujhmadh, which remains a forest fortress of the Maoists, from where ‘CC’ members manage the rebel movement, and the apex body members meet their various formations, to plan and strategize during their plenum. Former Gadchiroli SP, Shailesh Balkawade, thus opined,
Abujhmadh occupies a place of pride among Maoists, which is unlikely to get replaced going by the documents we have seized.
Of late, the alleged use of drones by Maoists has been one of the latest challenges faced by Police in affected areas bordering Chhattisgarh. On at least two occasions (September 14, 2020, and October 10, 2020), drones were sighted hovering over sensitive areas including remote Police outposts in Gadchiroli District, causing the Police to raise an alarm.
A recent report on December 9, 2020, observes that the ‘Central Military Commission (CMC)’ of CPI-Maoist issued a letter to its cadres, urging them to the celebrate’ 20th anniversary of its armed wing – Peoples Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) – from December 2020 to December 2021. The Maoist leadership also asked its cadres and front/mass organizations to take up “propaganda, resistance, and consolidation activities for one year according to the conditions of various States.” Commenting on the development, Inspector General of Police (IGP) Sandip Patil, Gadchiroli Range, declared,
The counter-strategy will be implemented throughout the year and beyond. We will launch operations and also make people aware of Maoist violence.
Three Districts – Chandrapur, Gadchiroli and Gondia – out of the State’s 36 Districts still find place among the 90 Districts in 11 States considered Left-Wing Extremism-affected by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA). These 90 Districts are covered under the UMHA’s Security Related Expenditure scheme. Besides, Gadchiroli falls among the ‘30 worst Maoist-affected’ Districts identified across seven States in the country.
Meanwhile, despite some of the promising security and developmental components, there remain certain significant loopholes in the capacities and deployment of security personnel in the State. According to Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data released as on January 1, 2020, although The Maharashtra’s Police-population ratio, at 174.87 per 100,000, is significantly higher than the national average of 155.78, it remains substantially lower than the minimum of 220:100,000 regarded as desirable for ‘peacetime policing’. The sanctioned strength of the States’ Police is 243,326, but 214,776 personnel were in position, yielding a vacancy of 28,550 (11.73 per cent). Further, the number of Policemen per 100 square kilometres for Maharashtra is 69.80, as against the sanctioned strength of 79.08. In addition, the sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State is 317, but just 259 officers were in position, with 58 posts vacant, considerably wakening executive supervision of the Force.
The Maoists are currently engaged in creating new passages and corridors in their effort to engineer a resurgence in the State and the wider region. Sustained operational focus, coupled with capacity building measures by the State government, are a must for the SFs to consolidate the gains achieved in past years.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management