By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On May 14, 2018, a Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadre was killed in an encounter with Police at Sudukumpa Reserve Forest in the Kandhamal District of Odisha State. The slain Maoist, who is yet to be identified, was reportedly active in the ‘Kandhamal-Kalahandi-Boudh-Nayagarh (KKBN) division’ of the CPI-Maoist in the State. Police recovered 11 rifles, ammunition, and Maoist literature from the encounter site.
On May 13, 2018, four CPI-Maoist cadres, including two women, were killed during an exchange of fire with the Police at Golanki village under Kandhamal Sadar Police Station limits. One of the four slain Maoists was identified as Sankar Majhi (37), reportedly the leader of the ‘KKBN division’. He carried a reward of INR 500,000 on his head. Identities of the three other slain Maoists are yet to be ascertained. Police recovered eight weapons, including an AK-47 and an INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) assault rifle, from the spot.
On February 16, 2018, CPI-Maoist cadres killed a civil contractor, identified as Shiba Shankar Dash aka Tunu Dash, at a site near Paji Bahali under Bijepur Police limits in Kalahandi District. The brother of the deceased, Ramashankar Das, stated, “The armed miscreants came and asked Shivashankar for payment. He told them to get money from his clerk. They fired six rounds at him.”
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the ‘KKBN division’ has accounted for at least six Maoist-linked fatalities (one civilian and five Maoists) in the current year, thus far (data till May 20, 2018). During the corresponding period in 2017, the ‘division’ had recorded one fatality (civilian). Maoist-linked fatalities in the area stood at six [three civilians, one Security Force (SF) trooper, and two Maoists] through 2017.
Since 2008, the ‘KKBN division’ has recorded 98 fatalities (38 civilians, 21 SF personnel, and 39 Maoists, data till May 20, 2018). The first fatality in the ‘division’ was recorded on February 15, 2008. 14 Police personnel and a civilian were killed, and four policemen wounded, when around 500 heavily armed CPI-Maoist cadres carried out a coordinated attack targeting a Police Training School (PTS), the District armoury, and District Police Station near Daspalla in the Nayagarh District. During this period (February 15, 2008, and May 20, 2018), Odisha accounted for a total of 712 fatalities (310 civilians, 189 SF personnel, and 213 Maoists). Thus, the ‘KKBN division’ alone accounted for 13.76 per cent of total-Maoist linked fatalities recorded in Odisha.
Fatalities in ‘KKBN division’ and Odisha: 2008*-2018
Source: SATP, * Data since February 15, 2008; **Data till May 20, 2018
At least seven major incidents (each resulting in three or more fatalities), were recorded in the ‘KKBN division’ since 2008. These include:
May 13, 2018: Four CPI-Maoist cadres were killed during an exchange of fire with Police in Kandhamal District.
April 30, 2016: At least three women Maoist cadres were killed by SFs in an encounter in the Sahajkhaol Reserve Forest area of Kalahandi District.
January 5, 2012: Three constables of the Odisha Police were killed and as many injured when CPI-Maoist cadres triggered a landmine blast at Badarpanga village in the Kotagarh area of Kandhamal District.
November 27, 2010: Five persons, including two women and a three-year-old child, were killed when CPI-Maoist cadres blew up an ambulance by triggering a landmine blast near Dukulpadu in the Brahmanigaon area of Kandhamal District.
February 15, 2008: 14 Police personnel and a civilian were killed and four policemen were wounded when around 500 heavily armed CPI-Maoist cadres carried out a coordinated attack targeting a Police Training School (PTS), the District armoury, and District Police Station near Daspalla in the Nayagarh District.
February 17, 2008: At least 20 CPI-Maoist cadres, including women, were killed during a combing operation by SFs in the border area of Nayagarh District.
August 23, 2008: Five persons, including Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda, and his four disciples, including a woman, were killed in an attack by suspected CPI-Maoist cadres on an ashram (hermitage) at Jalespata in the Kandhamal District.
In 2007, Ginugu Narasimha Reddy aka Jampanna, a member of the ‘Central Military Commission’ of the CPI-Maoist, formed the ‘KKBN division’ with an intention to strengthen the movement in Odisha. He surrendered before the Hyderabad Police in Telangana on December 22, 2017.
Though the overall security situation in the State has improved, the ‘KBKN division’ remains a challenge. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, on December 11, 2017, stated that the Maoist situation in at least eight Districts (Malkangiri, Koraput, Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Rayagada, Bolangir, Bargarh and Angul) of the State continued to “remain challenging”, even as there has been a substantial improvements in the other Districts.
Kandhamal is among 30 Districts, across seven States, identified by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) as “worst-affected” by Maoist violence. Moreover, Kalahandi, Nayagarh, and Boudh Districts in the ‘KKBN division’ are on the list of 90 ‘affected Districts’. Boudh is among the eight new Districts, across five States, which have been added recently to the list of Districts covered under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) Scheme, as a pre-emptive step to check any attempts by Maoists to enhance their area of influence. Director General of Police (DGP), R.P. Sharma, on April 16, 2018, stated,
We have also added two districts in the list of Naxal affected districts of the State. Those are Angul and Boudh. Though no violence has taken place in Angul and Boudh, we received information about the movement of Maoists in these areas for which the two districts have been included in the Naxal affected list of the State.
All the four Districts falling under the ‘KKBN division’ – spread over a geographical area over 22,562 square kilometers – offer crucial strategic advantages to the rebels. The forest cover of the ‘division’ is 11,604 square kilometres, i.e., about 51.43 per cent of the total area. The Division is situated to the south of the State, and is surrounded mostly by currently Maoist-affected/ erstwhile Maoist-affected Districts of the State. To the south the ‘KKBN division’ shares border with Gajapati, Koraput, Nabarangpur and Rayagada; to the north, with Angul, Bolangir and Subarnapur; to the east it shares with Cuttack, Ganjam and Khordha; and to the west Nuapada and Raipur of Chhattisgarh. On September 12, 2017, after reviewing Maoist activities in the ‘KKBN division’, DGP R.P. Sharma noted, “The ultras are taking geographical advantage of Kandhamal District to expand their activities. The district is densely forested and surrounded by hills.”
Moreover, these four Districts are afflicted by relatively low standards on all human development indicators. There is widespread absence of and worsening access to healthcare, education, drinking water, sanitation and food, creating an alarming humanitarian situation. These conditions create opportunities for the Maoists. 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 its purview, all the four Districts of the ‘KKBN division’ were ranked towards the bottom: Boudh (574), Kandhamal (551), Kalahandi (548), and Nayagarh (373). 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, a report released by the Government of India listed Kandhamal and Kalahandi among 115 ‘backward districts’ of India. The 115 Districts were identified on the basis of select indicators of backwardness and prevalence of Left Wing Extremism. The indicators of backwardness included Poverty Rank, Health Rank, and Education Rank.
The Maoists are facing losses, both in the State (most recently, in the twin encounters on May 13-14, 2018) and across the country. At least 40 Maoists were killed in the Gadchiroli District of Maharashtra in twin encounters on April 22-23, 2018; and at least eight Maoists were eliminated in the Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh on April 27, 2018. In all, LWE groupings are struggling to retain hold in progressively shrinking areas. The ‘KKBN division’ is critical to their survival and to the continuance of their movement in Odisha, and it is imperative that SF pressures are sustained, even as the abysmal developmental deficit in the area is addressed.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management