By Deepak Kumar Nayak
On July 17, 2023, Devendra Katkari (31), an Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)’s 60th Battalion, was injured in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast triggered by Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres in the Hathiburu Forest area near Meralgeda village under the Goelkera Police Station area in West Singhbhum District, Jharkhand. The blast occurred when Katkari was patrolling through a mud road in Meralgeda village.
On July 12, 2023, Deepak Kumar Tiwari, a deputy commandant of the CRPF’s elite Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) force, was injured in an encounter with Maoists at Rela Paral Pahad under Goilkera Police Station limits in West Singhbhum District. Superintendent of Police (SP) Ashutosh Shekhar disclosed that the Maoists opened fire when the Security Forces (SFs) were conducting combing operations in the region, resulting in an encounter in which the trooper was injured. Though the Maoists managed to escape, three IEDs were recovered from the encounter spot.
On May 11, 2023, one CRPF trooper was injured while another escaped unhurt in an IED blast triggered by the Maoists at Ichahatu village under the Goilkera Police Station limits in West Singhbhum District. The blast occurred when the two motorcycle-borne troopers were crossing through Ichahatu while patrolling the Goilkera area.
These incidents are not in isolation.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 16 SF personnel have been injured in seven Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-linked incidents since the beginning of 2023 (data till July 23) in West Singhbhum District. There was, however, no SF fatality. During the corresponding period of 2022, two SF personnel died in one incident, though no other incidents of injury or death were reported. In the rest of 2022, six SF personnel were injured in two incidents. However, no further fatalities were recorded. There were four SF fatalities in 2021. Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on LWE across India, at least 83 SF personnel have been killed in West Singhbhum District.
No Naxalite (Left Wing Extremist, LWE) fatality has been registered in West Singhbhum District in the current year, thus far (data till July 23, 2023). The last Naxalite fatality was recorded on December 16, 2021, when ‘area commander’ Mangra Lugun of the People’s Liberation Front of India (PLFI), a splinter group of the CPI-Maoist, was killed in an encounter near the Lepa and Reda forests areas in West Singhbhum District. It is noteworthy that Mangra was a special target for the Police, and half a dozen Naxalites lived with Mangra Lugun. 2021 recorded two Naxalfatalities. Since March 6, 49 Naxalites have been killed in the district.
Not surprisingly, civilians remained under constant threat in the district. Indeed, at least six civilians have already been killed since the beginning of the year (data till July 23, 2023). During the corresponding period of 2022, one civilian fatality was recorded, and one more civilian fatality was registered in the remaining period of 2022 giving a total of two civilian fatalities through 2022. A maximum of 13 civilian fatalities were recorded in 2013, while a low of one fatality was recorded in 2015. Since March 6, 2020, 67 civilians have been killed. The civilian killing incidents in 2023 included:
May 25: A 50-year-old man, Kande Laguri, was killed in an IED blast in a remote village of Luiya under Tonto Police Station limits in West Singhbhum District.
May 18: A child died in an IED explosion near Rengadahatu village under the Goilkera Police Station area in West Singhbhum District.
April 28: One woman, identified as Gangi Surin, was killed in an IED explosion in Maridiri Forest, located on the border of the Goilkera Police Station and Mufassil Police Station areas in West Singhbhum District.
March 25: A woman civilian, Gurbari Tamosi (62), was killed, while another woman, Chandu Kai Tamosi (62), sustained injuries in an IED blast near the Anjadbeda Forest area in the Chaibasa Subdivision of West Singhbhum District.
March 1: A 50-year-old man, Krishna Purty, was killed, and his wife, Nandi, injured, in an IED blast in the Chundri Forest area near Ichahatu village in Goilkera Police Station limits in West Singhbhum District.
February 21, 2023: A villager was killed in an IED blast at Meralgadha village under the Tonto Police Station area in West Singhbhum District.
In all these incidents, the deceased had stepped on IEDs which had been planted by Maoists with the intention of harming SFs.
Meanwhile, other parameters of LWE-linked violence indicate a significant increase in Maoist activities in West Singhbhum. The Maoists have triggered at least 18 blasts in the current year, the highest in a single year since 2000, with the previous high of six recorded in 2009. A total of 41 such blasts have been recorded since March 6, 2000.
Overall Maoist-linked incidents increased from 20 in 2022 to 33 in 2023, within a comparable time frame (data till July 23). Incidents of killing doubled from three in 2022 to six in 2023, again in a comparable time frame.
West Singhbhum, located in the Southern part of Jharkhand, bordering Odisha, is the largest District in the State, covering 5,351.41 square kilometres, of which 53 per cent (around 2836.24 square kilometres) is under forest cover. The district is bounded on the north by Khunti District, and on the east by Saraikela Kharsawan District, of Jharkhand; on the southeast by the Mayurbhanj District of Odisha; on the south by the Keonjhar District of Odisha; and on the west by the Simdega District of Jharkhand and Sundargarh District of Odisha. The geographical proximity of steep hills and deep forests in the district makes it an arduous task for the SFs to counter the rebels.
Suggestively, West Singhbhum, along with seven districts of Jharkhand (Chatra, Giridih, Gumla, Khunti, Latehar, Lohardaga, and Saraikela-Kharsawan), is on the list of ‘25 Most Affected Districts’, from eight States across India, released by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on June 19, 2021. Moreover, West Singhbhum, along with 15 districts of the state (Bokaro, Chatra, Dhanbad, Dumka, East Singhbhum, Garhwa, Giridih, Gumla, Hazaribagh, Khunti, Latehar, Lohardaga, Palamu, Ranchi, and Saraikela-Kharsawan), is also included among the 70 Naxal-affected Districts in 10 States across India, covered under the Centre’s Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme, which funds focused operations against the Naxalites.
According to an April 30, 2023, report, in view of the increased activities of Maoists, SFs are running a continuous campaign against the top Maoist leaders — Misir Besra, Anmol, Mochu, Chaman, Kande, Ajay Mahto, Sagen Angaria, and Ashwin — as well as their squad members who engaged in subversive activities in the Kolhan area. Combing operations and raids have resulted in the arrest of eight Naxals in the district in the current year (data till July 23, 2023), in addition to 24 in 2022 (20 in the corresponding period of 2022). Another 45 Naxalites were arrested in 2021. Since 2000, a total of 330 Naxals have been arrested in the district.
Though the SFs have long been able to keep the Naxalite threat in West Singhbhum under control, the rebels continue to work to secure the district as a safe haven. The recent attacks on SFs and civilians and the recovery of three IEDs on July 11 and another three IEDs on July 7, underline the persistence of such efforts. It is imperative, therefore, for the governments—both State and Union—to ensure that adequate measures are taken to deal with the remaining Maoist threat.
- Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management