By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
Five cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), including two ‘sub-zonal commanders’, were killed in an encounter with Security Forces (SFs) during a search operation in an area between the Sikid and Kedu Forests under Herhanj Police Station limits in the Latehar District of Jharkhand State on April 4, 2018. The two ‘sub-zonal commanders’, carrying rewards of INR 500,000 each on their heads, were identified as Shivlal Yadav and Shravan Yadav. The identities of the remaining three slain Maoists are yet to be ascertained. SFs recovered the bodies of the five Maoists, along with two Self Loading Rifles (SLRs), two Indian Small Arms System (INSAS) assault rifles, a .315 bore rifle, and a large number of live bullets from the encounter spot.
On February 1, 2018, a CPI-Maoist cadre, identified as Birbal Oraon, was killed in an encounter with SFs at Bhitar Pandra village in Latehar District. Superintendent of Police (SP), Prasant Anand disclosed, “We had information that the squads have been active in the Garu area for past several days and an anti-Naxal [Left Wing Extremism (LWE)] operation was launched to apprehend them.” He added that the Maoists had started firing at the approaching security personnel, forcing them to retaliate. While Birbal Oraon was killed some other Maoists managed to escape.
On January 17, 2018, an ‘area commander’ of Jharkhand Jan-Mukti Parishad (JJMP), a splinter group of the CPI-Maoist, was killed in an encounter at Jerpahari under Sadar Police Station limits in Latehar District. An AK-47, four American-made rifles, one INSAS assault rifle, among other materials, were recovered from the encounter spot.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), of the 16 Left Wing Extremists (LWEs) neutralised in Jharkhand in 2018, (data till April 15), seven (one JJMP and six CPI-Maoist cadres) were killed in Latehar District alone. Since 2005, a total of 101 LWEs have been neutralised in the Latehar District out of a total of 555 in Jharkhand. The District thus accounted for 18.19 per cent of total Naxal deaths recorded in the State over this period. Latehar District has the highest proportion of Naxals killed in the State, followed by Palamu with 13.51 per cent (75 LWEs fatalities); Hazaribagh with 11.71 per cent (65 LWEs fatalities); and Khunti with 10.99 per cent (61 LWEs fatalities).
Meanwhile, on March 21, 2018, according to the Jharkhand Police, top Naxal ‘commander’ Arvindji aka Dev Kumar Singh aka Nishant, who was active in Bihar and Jharkhand and carried a reward of INR 15 million on his head, died of cardiac arrest at his jungle hideout in the Budha Pahad hills in Latehar District. A native of Jehanabad District in Bihar, Arvindji was known for some of the deadliest attacks on SFs. He was the mastermind of the daring Jehanabad jailbreak of 2006, in which over 341 prisoners escaped from custody. After an attack on Police forces in Latehar District in January 7, 2013, in which 10 SF personnel were killed, bombs were planted inside the bodies of the dead on his instructions.
Significantly, the District has not recorded any SF killing thus far in 2018. There was no SF killing through 2017. The last SF killing was reported on July 11, 2016, when a Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) trooper – Ajai Kumar – succumbed to his injuries after being injured in an encounter between SF personnel and CPI-Maoist cadres at an unspecified location under Baresan Police Station limits in Latehar District. Since 2005, a total of 61 SF personnel have died in the Latehar District, 18.94 per cent of the 322 SF fatalities in Jharkhand over this period.
The highest number of SF deaths in a year in Latehar was recorded in 2009, when 27 SF personnel had died. In that year, the kill ratio was in favour of the LWEs at 1: 4.5, and remained in their favour in 2010 at 1:6. After 2011, however, the kill ratio has remained in favour of SFs at 1:1.63 in 2011; 1:1.5 in 2012; 1:1.8 in 2013. There were no SF fatalities through 2014 ad 2015, while the LWEs had lost three and two cadres, respectively, in these years. The ratio was in favour of the SFs at 1:7 in 2016. No fatalities were registered in either category in 2017.
Meanwhile, after registering the highest number of civilian fatalities, at 15 in 2011, fatalities dropped to just three in 2017. In the intervening years, the trend has been cyclical, but fatalities remained in single digits. Since 2005, a total of 59 civilians have been killed in the Latehar District, 8.91 per cent of the 622 civilian deaths in the State over this period.
Fatalities in Latehar District and Jharkhand: 2005-2018*
|Year||Latehar||Jharkhand||Latehar’s share in % of Total killing|
Source: SATP, *Data till April 15, 2018
Latehar has recorded 221 LWE-linked fatalities since 2005, (including 101 LWEs, 61 SF personnel and 59 civilians) 14.3 per cent of the total of 1,539 fatalities in the State (including 555 LWEs, 322 SF personnel and 662 civilians). Jharkhand alone contributed 19.82 per cent of total LWE-linked fatalities across the country over the corresponding period (2005 – to April 15, 2018).
Meanwhile, the fratricidal struggle between various rival LWE groups in Latehar, which has been the principal reason for violence in the District, has also witnessed a steady decline. Active groups in the State include the Swatantra Jan Sangharsh India Morcha (SJSIM), Sangharsh Jan Mukti Morcha (SJMM), Jharkhand Sangharsh Janmukti Morcha (JSJM), People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), Jharkhand Prastuti Committee (JPC), Jharkhand Janmukti Parishad (JJP), Jharkhand Liberation Tigers (JLT), Chhattisgarh-Jharkhand Simant Committee (CJSC) and Bal-Dasta (Children’s Strike Force), in addition to the CPI-Maoist. Significantly, the last such incident reported in the District was on August 16, 2014, when a JJMP cadre, identified as Diwakar Singh, was killed by a rival Naxal outfit, TPC, a splinter group of the CPI-Maoist, at Chudia village in Latehar District.
Falling under the Palamu Division of Jharkhand State, Latehar District was created on April 4, 2001, carved out of the old Palamu District, with the truncated Palamu to its North, Chatra to its East, Lohardaga and Gumla Districts to the South, Garhwa to its North West, and Surguja in Chhattisgarh to its South West. Spread across an area of 3,651.59 square kilometers, of which 61.48 per cent (2,245 square kilometres) is under dense forest and its hilly terrain, makes it a perfect location for a Maoist safe haven. Terror also reigns in Latehar due to its proximity to other Maoist-hit Districts of Jharkhand, as well as its proximity to Chhattisgarh, the State long worst-afflicted by LWE.
To boost development, Latehar District was included among 13 ‘focus areas’ identified by the State, where several security measures have been coupled with strong developmental initiatives. State Director General of Police (DGP) D.K. Pandey stated on January 10, 2018, that, three years earlier, 13 ‘focus areas’ were identified across the State and 18 security camps were established in these. Talking about future plans, the DGP further disclosed that 30 additional security camps are planned in these 13 ‘focus areas’. Each of these 13 ‘focus areas’ were also covered under area specific ‘action plans’ activities to grow. The 13 ‘focus areas’ are in the Districts of Garhwa, Palamau, Chatra, Latehar, Gumla, Lohardaga, Bokaro, Giridih and the Santhal Pargana region.
Nevertheless, the District remains one of the most disadvantaged, and is included among 115 Districts across the country identified as ‘Backward’ by Niti Aayog on November 20, 2017. The data sets used by the Niti Ayog includes Socio Economic Caste Census (SECC) Deprivation, Nutrition and health data [fourth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4)]; Elementary education data [Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) 2015-16] and data pertaining to households without electrifications, without access to drinking water and toilets and un-connected villages. Previously, according to the “District Development and Diversity Index Report for India and Major States,” a joint survey conducted by the US-India Policy Institute (USIPI) and the Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy (CRDDP), New Delhi, which included 599 Districts across India within the purview of the Survey, Latehar was ranked 457th, i.e., among the most deprived. The report released on January 29, 2015, took composite development — measured in terms of economic development and indices of health, education and material well-being – into consideration.
More recently, on March 9, 2018, Union Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha, flagged off the much-awaited 44.37 kilometres-long Tori-Shivpur rail line, which is intended, principally, to transport coal produced by the Central Coalfields Limited (CCL) Magadh and Amrapali Coalfields to source power plants. It will cross through the Naxal-affected and difficult terrain of the Latehar and Chatra Districts of the State. It is learnt that the section would carry 15 racks of the fossil fuel each, from both the mines located in Latehar, which would grow further in capacity after the corridor is fully operative.
According to a March 20, 2018, report, the latest figures provided by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) showed that 804 of the 908 LWE-linked incidents reported in 2017 across the country, took place in 35 Districts (88.55 per cent). The Sukma District of Chhattisgarh reported the highest number, at 102 followed by Gadchiroli District in Maharashtra (68 incidents); the Bijapur District (60) of Chhattisgarh was third; Latehar in Jharkhand (59) fourth; and Narayanpur (58) in Chhattisgarh fifth.
SFs have succeeded in containing the LWE menace in Latehar and there has been an encouraging measure of dominance established. Nevertheless, residual LWE capacities remain significant, and it will take a committed effort of will on part of the Government and the SFs to overcome these.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management