By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On July 23, 2020, two Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres, including a woman, were killed in an exchange of fire with the Security Forces (SFs) in the Sirla Reserve Forest area under Tumudibandha Police limits in the Kandhamal District of Odisha. Director General of Police (DGP) Abhay disclosed, “The Police Forces fired in self-defense. After the exchange of fire ended, the SOG [Special Operations Group] and DVF [District Voluntary Force] spotted two bodies – a male and a female. Both were in Maoist uniforms. We also recovered one INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) assault rifle, one carbine, and two country-made firearms.” The identities of the slain Maoists are yet to be ascertained.
On July 6, 2020, a CPI-Maoist cadre was killed in an exchange of fire with the SFs, again in the Sirla Reserve Forest area under the Tumudibandha Police Station. According to an Odisha Police release, “On Monday at 6.30 p.m., Maoists opened fire from an advantageous position and lobbed grenades at SOG and DVF jawans [troopers]. Police party immediately took cover and asked Maoists to stop firing and surrender. Some police personnel sustained injuries.” The body of a slain Maoist along with two country-made weapons was recovered from the encounter site. The identity of the slain Maoist is yet to be ascertained.
On July 5, 2020, four CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an exchange of fire with DVF and SOG personnel in the Sirla Reserve Forest. Though the individual identities of the slain Maoists are yet to ascertained, it was found that all of them belonged to the ‘Kandhamal-Kalahandi-Boudh-Nayagarh (KKBN) Division’. Arms and ammunition, including three Self-Loading Rifles (SLRs), one INSAS assault rifle, two country made weapons, SLR 16, Maoist literature and other articles were recovered from the encounter site.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the ‘KKBN division’ – covering the Kandhamal, Kalahandi, Boudh, and Nayagarh Districts of Odisha – has accounted for at least eight Maoist-linked fatalities (one civilian and seven Maoists) in the current year, thus far (data till July 26, 2020). During the corresponding period in 2019, the ‘division’ had recorded four fatalities (three civilians and one Maoist), and another three fatalities in the remaining period of 2019, to take the year’s tally to seven (five civilians and two Maoists).
The first ever fatality in the ‘division’ was registered on February 15, 2008, when 14 Police personnel and two civilians were killed, and four Policemen sustained injuries, when around 500 heavily armed CPI-Maoist cadres carried out a coordinated attack targeting a Police Training School, the District armoury, and District Police Station near Daspalla in the Nayagarh District. Three Maoists were also killed in the incident. Since then, the ‘division’ has accounted for a total of 94 fatalities, including 43 civilians, 21 SF personnel, and 30 Maoists (data till July 26, 2020), including the fatalities recorded on February 15, 2008. During this period (February 15, 2008, and July 26, 2020), Odisha has recorded a total of 760 fatalities (324 civilians, 171 SF personnel, 265 Maoists). Thus the ‘KKBN division’ alone accounted for 12.36 per cent of total Maoist-linked fatalities in the State.
Fatalities in ‘KKBN Division’ and Odisha: 2008*-2020**
Source: SATP, *Data since February 15, 2008; **Data till July 26, 2020
A cursory look at the fatalities in the ‘KKBN division’ suggests that SFs, after suffering a major jolt on February 15, 2008, succeeded in putting immense pressure on the Maoists. While the overall ratio of fatalities in the ‘division’ stands in favour of the SFs at 1:1.42, it improved dramatically between 2013 and 2020, at 1:26. The last SF fatality was recorded on June 4, 2017, when a SOG trooper was killed and six were injured in a CPI-Maoist ambush near Khamankhol under Baliguda Police Station limits in the Kandhamal District.
Moreover, since February 15, 2008, SFs have arrested at least 59 Maoists from the ‘KKBN division’, and mounting pressure resulted in the surrender of another 17 (data till July 26, 2020). In addition, combing operations by the SFs resulted in the recovery of arms and ammunition on 59 occasions between February 15, 2008, and July 26, 2020. Most recently, on July 2, 2020, SFs busted a CPI-Maoist camp in the Samarbandha Forest area under Phiringia Police Station limits in Kandhamal District, and recovered 15 kilograms of explosives containing urea, gunpowder and other substances, 28 detonators, digital multimeters, bags, blackcaps, rechargeable batteries, camp equipment, Maoist banners, posters and literature.
Despite SF successes, however, civilians continue to suffer, thoughsignificant improvement have been recorded between 2013 and 2020, as the SFs have come to dominate the region. 20 civilian fatalities were recorded during these seven years and seven months, as compared to 22 fatalities in the preceding four years and 11 months (approximately) between February 15, 2008, and December 31, 2012.
The ‘KKBN division’, spread over a geographical area of 22,562 square kilometres, offers crucial strategic advantages to the Maoists. The forest cover in 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 mostly surrounded by currently Maoist-affected or erstwhile Maoist-affected Districts of the State. To the south, the ‘KKBN division’ shares its borders with Gajapati, Koraput, Nabarangpur and Rayagada; to the north, with Angul, Bolangir and Subarnapur; to the east with Cuttack, Ganjam and Khordha; and to the west, with Nuapada, as well as Raipur in Chhattisgarh State.
The ‘KKBN division’ was once a stronghold of the Maoists. Unsurprisingly, Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Boudh, and Nayagarh, along with another 11 Districts (Angul, Bargarh, Bolangir, Deogarh, Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur, Nuapada, Rayagada, Sambalpur, and Sundargarh) out of the State’s 30 Districts, were among the 90 Districts in 11 States listed as LWE-affected by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on February 5, 2019. Of these 11 Districts, Koraput and Malkangiri, were among the ‘30 worst Maoist-affected’ Districts, across seven States in the country, according to the UMHA.
However, with the security situation improving rapidly, the Odisha State Government recommended to the UMHA to remove the names of five LWE-hit Districts from the Centre’s consolidated list of CPI-Maoist-affected Districts, for which the State receives funds under the Security Related Expenditure (SRE) scheme. On July 10, 2020, DGP Abhay, disclosed,
The UMHA has been urged to take off the names of Angul, Boudh, Sambalpur, Deogarh, and Nayagarh Districts, as the Maoist violence has been on the wane in the State and more rebels are also laying down their arms because of an intensified bid by the Security Forces to crush the internal rebellion.
The Maoist power is undeniably fizzling out in the ‘KKBN division’ and across Odisha. It is now up to the Governments – the Centre and State – to expand the necessary administrative, developmental and security outreach in the Districts of the ‘division’, as well as other LWE-affected region of the State, to bring about a more comprehensive normalcy and lasting peace.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management