January 23, 2021
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For the Chhattisgarh government, the success of anti-Naxalite operations is paramount if the promised foreign investment is actually to materialize; 'a state within the state' is hardly reassuring for investors.

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Reality Bites
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Reality Bites

Addressing a luncheon organised by the Consulate General of India and the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) at New York on May 17, 2005, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh said: "We are India's youngest, smartest state without any liability from the past. We intend to become the country's hottest investment destination." Heading a team of senior officials, Raman Singh was pitching for foreign investment for his state, which sits on some of India's richest mineral reserves of coal, iron ore, dolomite, bauxite and limestone. Returning home after the trip, on May 27, Singh declared that foreign investors would invest close to INR 56 billion in the coming months in the state. The Chief Minister's boast may, however, seem somewhat incredible, considering the security environment prevalent in Chhattisgarh.

On May 7, 2005, Naxalites of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) attacked the Samri Aluminum unit of Asia's largest primary producer of aluminum, the Hindalco Industries Limited (a flagship company of the Aditya Birla Group) at Saridih in the Surguja District, destroying the company's buildings and documents. Following the attack, the Balrampur Superintendent of Police, Sitaram Kaluri, stated that security forces involved in combing operations in the region had earlier stayed in the company's residential premises, which may have prompted the attack. However, this was not the first attack on the Hindalco group by the Naxalites. On April 25, 2002, they had attacked Hindalco's Kutku Bauxite mines in the Balrampur area, damaging machinery and equipment worth INR 20 million.

The latest assault did not end immediately. On May 8, in an attack reminiscent of the Koraput incident of February 6, 2004, in Orissa, CPI-Maoist cadres attacked the Kanker District Headquarters, setting afire buildings belonging to the revenue and forest departments, as well as a branch of the State Bank of India. The offensive was meticulous and according to Kanker Superintendent of Police, Pradeep Gupta, "the attack was unexpected. The armed guerrillas blocked all the roads leading to the incident site by felling trees on roads." An interesting aspect in both the attacks - at the Hindalco unit and in Kanker - was the reported involvement of more than 200 cadres in a methodical operation, in both cases taking the security, corporate and bureaucratic machinery by surprise.

With 43.7 per cent of the state under forest cover, and a 31.75 per cent tribal population, Chhattisgarh has provided fertile ground for the Naxalites to operate in and dominate. According to a recent state government intelligence report, the Naxalites have become a "dominant force in nine of the 16 districts and have partial but fast growing impact in four districts". Among the worst affected districts include Kanker, Dantewada, Bastar, Surguja, Rajnandgaon, Koriya, Kawardha and Jashpur. The report has also predicted that the Naxalites could capture nearly 60 percent of the state's land by 2010, if decisive operations are not carried out by the Union government to dismantle their bases.

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Annual Report 2004-2005, "In Chhattisgarh, Naxal violence led by the CPML-PW (Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist - People's War) sharply increased during 2004. The increase was primarily on account of coordinated Naxal attacks on police as a part of the CPML-PW/ MCCI (Maoist Communist Centre of India)-led poll boycott campaign." The MHA report further stated that, there were 37 fatalities in Naxalite violence in 2001; 55 in 2002; 74 in 2003; and 83 in 2004. In 2005, according to the Institute for Conflict Management database, till May 28, 16 security forces (SF) personnel, 11 civilians, and 3 Naxalites have been killed in different incidents. The preponderance of SF fatalities in 2005 has been alarming and has been attributed by official sources to increasing combing operations carried out in the districts of Kanker, Dantewada and Bastar, in an apparent effort by the government to enter the 'liberated zone' (areas where Maoist influence and activities are dominant).

In May 2005, a senior CPI-Maoist leader, Ayatu, speaking to the media in the Bastar forest area had said, "Who said we are running parallel administration? We have liberated some of our areas through our sustained people's war in the Abujhmad (Abujhmar) area of Dandakaranya zone (of Bastar region) where we have established people's governance." The local media has often substantiated this claim with reports of the Naxalites administering a 'taxation' system in these areas; of police not venturing into the villages after dark; and of government officials traveling in vehicles that bear a 'Press' sticker to avoid Naxalite attacks. Way back in 2000, (Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in November 2000) the Madhya Pradesh's Commissioner (Land Records) and Chief Conservator of Forests (Land Management) had admitted in a report that the Naxalites had forcibly occupied 20,000 hectares of forest area in the Bastar division and were running a parallel government there by appointing their own 'rangers' and 'deputy rangers'.

Similarly, in other districts like Surguja, there have been recent reports of sales tax officials leaving their inter-state check gates on the borders of Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand well before sunset for fear of the Naxalites. In the Bastar region, the Indian Army's Border Road Organisation's (BRO) attempt to construct the 200 kilometer long national highway between Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh has hit bottlenecks due to Naxalite attacks.

Acknowledging the difficulties faced by the police in entering this 'liberated zone', the state government had approached the Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) in January 2005, to conduct a survey of the Abujhmar Hills, in order to provide them with the geographical locations of the Naxalite camps.

The Abujhmar Hills are located in the western part of Bastar District. The terrain varies from 450 meters to 750 meters above sea level, is densely forested, and comprises many high ridges and deep valleys created by numerous streams, which provide an effective natural barrier from all sides, isolating it from the rest of the region. The Hills are inhabited by the Maria tribes.

The task of recovering control and restoring governance in the Naxalite affected areas of Chhattisgarh appears far from easy, as evidenced by the May 19, 2005, incident, when senior police officials, supervising operations to enter the Abujmarh Hills, came under heavy Naxalite attack at Narayanpur in the Bastar District. Military helicopters were used to evacuate them.

The capacity to mount affective anti-Naxalite operations in the state is undermined by low police strength. According to the Crime in India, 2003, report published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), for an estimated mid-year population of 21,721,000 in Chhattisgarh, the police strength (civil and armed) was 20,472; this yields a police-population ratio of 1:1,061. The all-India ratio is 1:814, but in Delhi it goes up to 1:269; and in Mizoram: 1:129. [The worst ratio in the country obtains in Bihar - 1:1,652]. In an attempt to replenish this deficit, the Chhattisgarh government requested the Gujarat government to send police personnel to help man police stations when the local police was sent out for combing operations. This request has apparently been accepted, with Gujarat Director General of Police, A.K. Bhargava stating on May 4, that a battalion comprising six companies of the Special Armed Force would be sent to Naxalite-affected areas in Chhattisgarh. A similar request has reportedly been made to the Nagaland Government. Whether this will result in any dramatic improvement in operational capacities remains to be seen. The presence of outside troops often adds to disenchantment among the locals, and tends to yield unreliable human intelligence.

Nevertheless, as the state government fires up its efforts to penetrate Naxalite dominated areas in Chhattisgarh, the coming months may well see body counts rising. For the government, the success of these operations is paramount if the promised foreign investment is actually to materialize; investor confidence can hardly be expected to improve as long as the Naxalites continue to function as 'a state within the state.'

Saji Cherian is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal

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