By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On December 22, 2016, Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres shot dead one person, identified as G. Appa Rao, at Munuguluwalsa village under the Pottangi Police limits in the Koraput District of Odisha. Appa Rao was the husband of the Naib Sarpanch (deputy head of the Panchayat, the village level local-self government institution) of Talagoluru. The Maoists also set ablaze two tractors and one van belonging to Apparao before leaving the spot.
Earlier, on December 15, 2016, former top Maoist leader T. Anil Kumar aka Chandu, who was the head of the ‘intelligence wing’ of the ‘Koraput – Srikakulam Special Zonal Committee (KSSZC)’ and was allegedly involved in more than 100 cases, including killing alleged ‘police informers’, was found dead at Uparakanti Hill under the Semiliguda Block of Koraput District. Chandu belonged to Chirala town and was arrested in Talapaniki village under the Narayanpatna Block of Koraput District in February, 2014. He was later granted conditional bail and eventually ‘rehabilitated’ in Koraput, attracting the Maoists’ ire.
On November 18, 2016, Maoists killed a contractor-supervisor, identified as Jayaram Khila, slitting his throat at Bhitarakota village under Patangi Police limits in Koraput District.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, at least 11 persons, including eight civilians, two Security Force (SF) personnel and one Maoist, have been reported killed in Left Wing Extremism (LWE)/Maoist-linked incidents in Koraput District during the current year (data till December 25, 2016). During the corresponding period of 2015, Koraput had recorded just one such fatality, a SF trooper. There were no fatalities thereafter in 2015.
Since the beginning of 2016, the Maoists have killed at least eight civilians in Koraput District, which is the highest in comparison to other LWE/Maoist-affected Districts of the State. Kandhamal followed, with six civilian fatalities; Malkangiri with five; Kalahandi, three; and one each in Nuapada and Rayagada. The increase in civilian fatalities in Koraput, gives clear cause for concern. Nevertheless, the trend suggests that the Maoists are exercising extreme caution to avoid a confrontation with SFs, while the quiet elimination of civilian opposition continues.Koraput District appears to experience a recurring cycle in annual fatalities. While, the highest number, 43, was recorded in 2010, not a single fatality was registered in 2006 and 2007. The District had just one fatality (a lone SF trooper) in 2015, the current year has seen a surge in violence, with 11 dead, including eight civilians, two SF personnel and one Maoist, thus far.
With a total area of about 8,807 square kilometres, Koraput is covered by forests, waterfalls, springs and terraced valleys. It also contains the largest mountains of Odisha, Deomali and Chandragiri. The forest cover in the District is 1879.53 square kilometres, i.e., about 21.33 per cent of the total area. The District is situated to the south of the State. On its extreme north, Koraput is bounded by Kalahandi; to the Northwest by Nabarangpur; to the Northeast by Rayagada District; and on the south by the Malkangiri District, all of Odisha. On the west of Koraput lies the Bastar District of Chhattisgarh; and on its east and southeast, the Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Vishakhapatnam Districts of Andhra Pradesh. Its geographical proximity with Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, two crucial Maoist-affected States, have made Koraput a major transit route for the rebels to cross over from one State to the other. Significantly, Koraput forms part of the Dandakaranya region, the nerve centre of the Maoist rebellion.
Koraput is full of paradoxes. On the one hand it presents a picture of scenic beauty with rolling mountains, tumbling rivers, beautiful valleys and a pleasant climate; and on the other hand, there is the abject poverty of its tribal population, which has hardly been touched by modernity. Koraput’s majority tribal and scheduled caste population, as well as widespread under-development, poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy, makes it one of the most backward Districts of India. Predictably, Koraput was ranked towards the bottom; 541st, among the 599 Districts across India, surveyed by the US-India Policy Institute (USIPI) and the Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy (CRDDP), New Delhi. The report of the survey, which took composite development — measured in terms of economic development and the indices of health, education and material well-being – into consideration, was released on January 29, 2015.
Apart from killing civilians, the Maoists have also orchestrated violence to impede developmental works in the District. On November 18, 2016, for instance, around 50 Maoists set fire to two Hiwa trucks, a Hitachi machine, a tractor and a tipper at a road construction site. The Maoists oppose the construction of the road to Bhitarakota village and also held a meeting in the presence of around 200 villagers in which the latter are also reported to have opposed the road work. The Maoists also abducted ten workers at the site before fleeing the spot. However, they released the workers after taking away their mobile phones, data machines and documents from them.
Further, on October 1, 2016, Gajarla Ravi aka Uday, ‘secretary’ of the Maoists’ Malkangiri-Koraput-Vishaka Border Division Committee (MKVDC), had addressed a meeting at Jantri village in the Kalimela tehsil (revenue unit) of Malkangiri District, where he reportedly appealed to the villagers to boycott the forthcoming Odisha panchayat elections in 2017, and urged them to protest against bauxite mining in Koraput District. The meeting was attended by around 1,000 to 1,500 villagers from Jodamba, Janbai, Paparmetla and Panasput of the Malkangiri District and Bodapada of Koraput District, both in Odisha; and Rollagedda of the East Godavari District in Andhra Pradesh.
Significantly, on February 17, 2016, the then Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Director General (DG), Prakash Mishra had claimed that the Maoist menace was returning to Odisha and Telangana, after receding for some time, with the overall situation in LWE-affected States remaining “fluid”. Mishra noted that, while LWE activity in Odisha had by-and-large cleared up, it was “coming back” to the Narayanpatna area of Koraput District.
In the meantime, SF personnel have carried out at least seven combing operations in the District. In one recent operation Special Operations Group (SOG) and District Voluntary Force (DVF) personnel destroyed a CPI-Maoist camp in the forested area between Dumuriguda-Panasput-Kandra in Hatibari panchayat under the Padwa Police limits of Nandapur Block in Koraput District, on September 18, 2016, and seized two walkie-talkie sets, huge quantities of explosives and detonators, medicines and Maoist literature. The rebels belonged to the Koraput Division of the Maoists’ Andhra-Odisha Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC). Further, according to media reports, combing operations by SFs were intensified in the bordering villages of Machkund, Ankedeli, Nandapur, Narayanpatna and Laxmipur in Koraput District and several check posts were erected to curb the infiltration of Maoists from the neighbouring Malkangiri District and Andhra Pradesh.
To boost combing operations, the Central Forces are largely deployed in Koraput District, as well as in Rayagada, Malkangiri, Kalahandi, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Nuapada and Kandhamal. 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.
On September 18, 2016, State Director General of Police (DGP) K.B. Singh reiterated that LWEs were trying to regroup in Odisha: “We still face a challenge from ultras even though situation has improved a lot. Recent seizure of explosives from their hideouts in different Districts indicates the Red rebels are trying to spread their activities again.” Clearly the Maoist threat in the State persists, and is reflected disproportionately in Koraput, since it serves as a major Maoist transit route, within a wider region where there is a significant concentration of the rebels’ residual capacities.
* Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management