By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
Left Wing Extremism (LWE) in Odisha continued to suffer reverses through 2017. According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), through 2017, Odisha recorded for 36 LWE-linked fatalities [18 civilians, nine Security Force (SF) personnel and nine Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres] as against 72 such fatalities (27 civilians, three SF personnel and 42 Maoists) recorded through 2016. There has been no such fatality in the current year so far (data till January 21, 2018).
Odisha registered a decline of 33.33 per cent in civilian fatalities, from 27 in 2016 to 18 in 2017. Fatalities recorded in this category in 2017, on year on year basis, were the fourth lowest since the formation of CPI-Maoist in September 2004. The lowest number (three fatalities) was recorded in 2006, while the second lowest (13) was recorded twice, in 2005 and 2007. Significantly, the highest number of fatalities (62) was registered in 2010.
Though fatalities among SFs increased from three in 2016 to nine in 2017, what is notable here is that the number of incidents in which SFs were killed stood at two in both these years. The two incidents in which SFs were killed in 2017 included:
February 1: Maoists triggered a landmine explosion [LINK: SAIR-15.32] near Mungarbhumi in Koraput District, killing eight Police personnel and injuring another five. The explosion targeted a Police van, carrying 13 Police personnel, on its way to the Police Training College in Angul District. This was the worst attack, in terms of fatalities, against the SFs in the State since May 23, 2011, when nine Policemen were killed in a Maoist-triggered landmine blast in the Sunabeda Forest area of Nuapada District.
June 4: A Special Operation Group (SOG) trooper was killed and another six were injured in a CPI-Maoist ambush near Khamankhol under Baliguda Police Station limits in Kandhamal District.
Maoist fatalities recorded a decline of 78.57 per cent, from 42 registered in 2016 to nine in 2017. Though SFs eliminated a smaller number of Maoists through 2017, they did inflict greater losses on the Maoists in terms of arrests. SFs arrested 62 Maoists, including one ‘commander’ level cadre in 2017, as against to 13 such arrests through 2016. The SFs continued to neutralise Maoist camps through 2017 and recovered arms and ammunition on at least 26 occasions, in addition to 28 in 2016.
Mounting SF pressure resulted the surrender of 54 Maoists in 2017. 401 Maoists had surrendered through 2016. The 2017 surrenders included CPI-Maoist ‘Central Committee (CC)’ member Jinugu Narasimha Reddy aka Jampanna, who headed the Maoists in Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Nayagarh and Boudh Districts; and his wife Hinge Anitha alias Rajitha. The couple surrendered before the Telangana Police on December 22, 2017. Subsequent to their surrender, Kandhamal District Police put posters at several areas in the District asking the Maoists to surrender and lead a normal life in future. The posters mentioned the surrender of these ‘Central Committee’ members and assured the Maoists that they would be provided with all kind of Government benefits if they laid down arms.
Their shrinking strength have forced the Maoists to recognize their declining influence. The number of bandh (total shut down) calls given by the rebels in 2017 came down to two, from 10 such calls in 2016.
An analysis of over ground and underground Maoist activities in Odisha through 2017 indicated that only two Districts – Malkangiri and Koraput – of 18 LWE-affected Districts (Odisha has a total of 30 Districts) fell in the ‘highly affected’ category, while another two Districts – Kalahandi and Kandhamal – remained ‘moderately affected’. The remaining 14 affected Districts – Angul, Bargarh, Bolangir, Cuttack, Deogarh, Ganjam, Gajapati, Keonjhar, Nabarangpur, Nayagarh, Nuapada, Rayagada, Sambalpur, and Sundargarh – were all categorised as ‘marginally affected’. By comparison, in 2016, four Districts – Malkangiri, Koraput, Kalahandi and Kandhamal – out of 16 LWE-affected Districts, were ‘highly affected’; another four Districts – Deogarh, Rayagada, Nuapada and Sundargarh – were ‘moderately affected’; and the remaining eight – Angul, Bargarh, Bolangir, Dhenkanal, Ganjam, Gajapati, Jajpur and Nabarangpur – were ‘marginally affected’.
At peak in 2011, the number of ‘highly affected’ Districts in Odisha was nine (Gajapati, Jajpur, Kandhamal, Keonjhar, Koraput, Malkangiri, Nuapada, Rayagada, and Sundargarh).
Indeed, as Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik noted on March 28, 2017, “Left-wing extremism remains largely contained to few pockets in the State, such as in parts of Malkangiri, Koraput, Nuapada, Kalahandi and Rayagada Districts. The Security Forces have been successful in handling the rebels on all fronts.”
Amidst these positive trends, some concerns remained. Incidents of bomb blasts increased from three in 2016 to five in 2017. Further, a total of 27 persons were abducted in 10 incidents in 2017, while 24 persons had been abducted in six incidents in 2016. The Maoists also carried out 12 incidents of arson in 2017, as against nine in the previous year. In addition, at least 11 families deserted their homes in 2017 due to Maoist threats, as against seven in 2016.
The three-tier panchayat (village level local self Government institution) elections were held in the State in five phases on February 13, 15, 17, 19 and 21, 2017. While the rest of State witnessed violence-free elections, there was no voting in 13 of 19 booths in Malkangiri, for fear of the Maoists. Poll officials disclosed that a very small number of people exercised their franchise in the remaining six booths as well. According to a villager, who did not cast his vote, “We preferred not to vote fearing the Maoists. They would punish people who cast votes.” The Maoists had reportedly warned the tribals of the District to abstain from the voting. Malkangiri had gone to polls on February 19.
Director General (DG) of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Rajiv Bhatnagar, in his meeting with Chief Minister Patnaik on August 28, 2017, had discussed the anti-LWE strategy for the Kalahandi-Kandhamal-Bolangir (KKB) axis, which remained a challenge for the SFs in the State.
Disturbingly, People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a CPI-Maoist splinter group mainly based in neighbouring Jharkhand, continued to make its presence felt in the State. A total of five incidents related to PLFI were reported in 2017, as against two such incidents in 2016. The most significant of the incidents in 2017 involving PLFI included:
February 8, 2017: Two PLFI cadres were killed in an exchange fire with the SFs in the Pital Forest under the Bisra Police limits in Sundargarh District,
April 24, 2017: A bandh call by PLFI cadres affected road communication between Sundargarh District and Jharkhand;
October 1, 2017: Seven PLFI cadres were arrested by the Police during a combing operation in Khukhundbahal forest under the Biramitrapur Police Station in Sundargarh District. One 9 mm carbine, three 9 mm double bore barrel guns, two 9 mm pistols and 37 rounds of live ammunition were seized from them
December 24, 2017: Eight PLFI cadres were arrested by the Police at Bisra in Sundargarh District. The Police also seized two pistols and two motorcycles from their possession.
In addition to measures taken earlier [LINK: SAIR-16.19] to further improve the situation, the State Government decided on October 26, 2017, to intensify its drive against the CPI-Maoist, with a focus on joint operations by the Police and Central Forces in Malkangiri and Koraput Districts, considered Maoist strongholds. State Director General of Police (DGP), R.P. Sharma, reviewed anti-Maoist operations and stated, “Our emphasis will be on joint operations and better co-ordination between the forces.”
Meanwhile, to improve security situation in Koraput District in particular, the Police launched ‘Saathi-2018’ on January 16, 2018, a programme aimed at creating a friendly environment between the law-enforcement agencies and the people, to counter the influence of the Maoists. According to top Police officers, the campaign is on in full swing at Narayanpatna, Bandhugaon, Pottangi and Boipariguda Police limits, and has won the appreciation of the people. The Koraput Police plans to organise at least 40 camps under Saathi-2018 in the Maoist-hit areas of Laxmipur, Nandapur and Pottangi Police limits by the month of February.
Deficiencies and deficits, nevertheless, persist. Odisha Police continues to lag in terms of capacities to deal with the challenges of the Maoists as well as with the general duties of policing in the State. According to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, as on January 1, 2017, Odisha had 132.87 Police personnel per 100,000 population, significantly below the national average of 150.75. More worryingly, the Police/Area Ratio (number of policemen per 100 square kilometres) is 36.42, as against the national average of 60.83. Both these figures are well below the sanctioned strength, at 155.67 and 42.67, respectively. In addition, the sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State is 188, but just 117 officers were in position, considerably weakening executive direction of the Force. Nevertheless, it is useful to note that Odisha was among the three worst States in terms of Police-population ratios in 2000, with a ratio of just 96 per 100,000, but has pulled itself up, to the eighth position from the bottom.
Currently, the Centre has deployed a total of 17 battalions of Central Armed Police Forces in the State – eight battalions each of the CRPF and Border Security Force (BSF) and one battalion of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), a specialized unit of the CRPF, to boost combing operations. These Central Forces are largely deployed in Rayagada, Malkangiri, Kalahandi, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Nuapada and Kandhamal Districts.
According to a report dated February 23, 2017, at least 700 LWE-related cases have been registered in different Police Stations in Odisha since 2000. Nearly 70 per cent of these were still pending investigation, while the conviction rate of the cases that actually reached a decision in the lower courts stood at a bare seven per cent. According to the report, the LWE wing of the State Crime Branch, which supervises investigation into Maoist offences, had asked the LWE-affected Districts of Odisha to create a databank of such cases and appoint dedicated officers to pursue investigations. Unfortunately, the the District Administration and State Government have failed to address the issue, and its underlying deficits.
On the developmental front, according to a January 15, 2018, report the Union Government has been implementing the National Policy and Action Plan (NPAP) to combat LWE since 2014. NPAP includes a multi-pronged strategy, covering areas of security, development, ensuring forest rights of tribal people and other issues in the Maoist-affected Districts. A new scheme of Special Central Assistance (SCA) was launched by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on September 27, 2017, for the 35 worst LWE-affected Districts in the country, which is to continue for a period of three years i.e., 2017-18 to 2019-20. Two Districts of Odisha – Malkangiri and Koraput – will receive INR 285.7 million per annum, each, for the three financial years, under this scheme.
On November 29, 2017, State Chief Secretary Aditya Prasad Padhi disclosed that the construction of the Gurupriya Bridge, which would connect the six gram panchayats in the “cut-off” area located across the Balimela Reservoir, with the Malkangiri District’s mainland, will be completed by February, 2018. The cut-off area has long been a region of Maoist dominance, and the Balimela Reservoir was the location of one of the worst massacres of SF personnel in the State, predominantly the elite Andhra Pradesh Police Greyhounds, on June 29, 2008.
Despite the decline of Maoist influence, a residual challenge remains in Odisha. The remaining affected Districts represent some of the poorest and most backward regions in the State and in the country. A January 5, 2018, Union Government list of 115 backward Districts in the country, included eight from Odisha: Rayagada, Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Gajapati, Dhenkanal, Bolangir, Koraput and Malkangiri.The Centre appointed joint secretary-level officers as prabharis (in-charge) of these Districts for better implementation of Government initiatives on equitable development across the country through the Transformation of Aspirational Districts Plan. The Districts were identified on the basis of indicators of education, health, nutrition, basic infrastructure, rural household electrification, and access to potable water and individual toilets. Unfortunately, while the SFs have taken giant steps forward in containing the insurgent threat, an administrative consolidation lags well behind.
* Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management