By Indrajit Sharma*
On February 11, 2021, a Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadre, identified as Mansa Kora, was killed in an exchange of fire with the Security Forces (SFs) in the Cheraun Korasi Forest under the Chananpur Police Station limits in the Lakhisarai District of Bihar. An INSAS rifle and magazine, a hand grenade, and 236 live cartridges were recovered from the encounter site.
This is the sole fatality recorded in the State in Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-linked violence in the current year, thus far (data till February 22, 2021).
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Bihar recorded at least 15 fatalities, including 10 civilians and five Maoists, in LWE-linked violence in 2020. There was a total of 21 fatalities, including 13 civilians, one SF trooper and seven Maoists, in 2019. The data thus reflected a decline of 28.57 per cent in overall fatalities in LWE-linked violence in the State.
The number of total LWE-linked incidents came down from 64 in 2019 to 43 in 2020. Three incidents have been recorded in the current year: one killing incident (mentioned above) and two incidents of arrest (each resulting in one arrest).
Killing incidents fell from 17 in 2019 to six in 2020, the lowest recorded in a year since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on LWE-linked violence. The previous low of eight incidents was recorded in 2015, which had resulted in 10 deaths.
Fatalities in 2020 were recorded in five Districts – Gaya (five), West Champaran (four), Khagaria (three), Munger (two) and Lakhisarai (one). In 2019, seven Districts registered fatalities – Gaya (eight), Lakhisarai (five), Aurangabad (two), Jamui (two), Muzaffarpur (two), Munger (one), Nawada (one).
Sushil Mansingh Khopde, Additional Director General of Police (ADGP), Operations, Bihar, noted, “their [Maoists’] presence is now limited to certain pockets and that too in hilly terrain and forests.”
According to State Police data, over 200 active members of the CPI-Maoist, including some top-ranking leaders carrying cash rewards on their heads, were arrested during Police operations in the State in 2020. This has led to a further decline in Maoist influence in the State.
Nonetheless, the ‘Axis’ region in Bihar remains a zone where the Maoists retain a significant measure of resilience, as well as capacities to operate and inflict violence. The ‘Axis’ region comprises six Districts – Aurangabad, Gaya, Nawada, Jamui, Lakhisarai and Munger. These six districts are among the 90 Districts in 11 States that are listed as LWE-affected, by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA). Further, four of these six Districts (Aurangabad, Gaya, Jamui and Lakhisarai) are among the ‘30 worst Maoist-affected’ Districts, across seven States in the country, according to UMHA.
Further, though Maoist activities had been on the wane in recent years in the 16 Maoist affected Districts of the State – six in ‘Axis region’ and 10 others [Arwal, Banka, East Champaran, Jehanabad, Kaimur, Muzaffarpur, Nalanda, Rohtas, Vaishali, West Champaran] – land mines remain a challenge. Indeed, as reported on October 4, 2020, the Superintendents of Police (SPs) of several Districts had asked Police Headquarters for satellite phones, additional central paramilitary forces and deep search metal detectors to look for landmines during anti-Maoist operations.
Moreover, on October 3, 2020, Manu Maharaaj, the Munger range Deputy Inspector General of Police warned that the Maoists could execute a major incident in Jamui, Munger and Lakhisarai Districts as a result of frustration caused by sustained and prolonged anti-Maoist operations by SFs.
In these circumstances it was expected that better synergy will prevail between the Centre and the State to deal with the menace, and to eradicate it completely.
However, despite State government raising concerns over the withdrawal of two regular Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) battalions from Bihar, the UMHA issued orders on November 18, 2020, for the permanent withdrawal of these two regular battalions from Bihar, to be redeployed in Chhattisgarh. Previously, on May 5, 2019, when the UMHA had proposed the withdrawal of two battalions of CRPF deployed in LWE affected areas in Bihar, the State Government had observed,
The area covering the Districts – Gaya, Jehanabad, Aurangabad, Bhojpur and Arwal – on both sides of the border is highly inaccessible, hilly and covered with forests. As a result, CPI-Maoist remains a formidable threat along the Gaya-Aurangabad axis in southern Bihar and along the Jamui-Munger-Banka-Lakhisarai axis. Operations for area domination, cordon and search against extremists always require more boots on the ground. There is requirement of matching forces on this side of the border to counter influx of Naxalites from the areas of Jharkhand and to effectively combat them. This is possible only by filling the gaps in the existing deployment of security forces.
Battalion 131 and 153 were removed. Separate companies of Battalion 131 were deployed in Banka, Jamui, Munger and Lakhisarai while separate companies of Battalion 153 were deployed in Gaya and Aurangabad. Bihar had a total of five regular Battalions of CRPF and one COBRA battalion before the November 18, 2020, order.
Moreover, according to Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, as on January 1, 2020, Bihar continues to reel under significant deficits in Police strength. The State’s Police-population ratio (Policemen per hundred thousand populations) stands at an abysmal 76.20, the lowest among States in the country, and far below the national average of 155.78, which itself is unacceptably low. In absolute terms, there is a vacancy of 47,099 personnel (33.89 per cent) against the sanctioned strength of 1,38,961 in Bihar. Moreover, out of a sanctioned strength of 242 apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State, 25 posts (10.33 per cent) remained vacant, considerably weakening the executive direction of the Force.
In recent years, Maoist activities in Bihar have been curtailed to a great extent. However, efforts need to be made to build capacities of the State’s Police machinery. A failure to do so would create impediments to the consolidation of the gains achieved and the establishment of a lasting peace in the State.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management