February 23, 2020
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Where The Farmers Commit Suicide...

And Naxals rule the roost: all the six Maoist-affected districts in Maharashtra fall in the Vidarbha region. And the recent police 'successes' do not mean that the Maoist challenge is over

Where The Farmers Commit Suicide...

Considering the fact that only six of the state’s 35 districts are affected by Left Wing extremism (LWE), Maharashtra has, over the years, registered a significant number of extremist incidents and related fatalities. According to the ministry of home affairs (MHA), incidents of Maoist violence in Maharashtra rose from 75 in 2003 to 84 in 2004, to a further 94 in 2005 and 98 in 2006. Related fatalities were 40, 17, 56 and 61 in the corresponding years. 16 fatalities were reported in 58 incidents in the first six months of 2007. 

Whereas the MHA designates Maharashtra as one of the states where LWE has been kept under control, these figures, at least for 2007, are certainly comparable with the states like Orissa where the problem is present in 22 districts out of a total 30. Between January and June 2007, Orissa registered 17 fatalities in 45 incidents. Similarly, Andhra Pradesh, where all 23 districts of the state are affected, though strong police action has brought the problem down to a low scale, registered 61 incidents and 40 deaths in the first six months of 2007. 

All the six LWE affected districts in Maharashtra (Gadchiroli, Chandrapur, Bhandara, Gondia, Yavatmal and Nanded) are located in the eastern part of the state, in the economically backward Vidarbha region, sharing borders with Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. Geographical contiguity with, and the ‘spill over’ from, the Maoist affected districts of Adilabad, Karimnagar and Nizamabad in Andhra Pradesh, as well as Rajnandgaon, Bastar, Kanker and Dantewada in Chhattisgarh, have been described as the principal reason for the extremism in Maharashtra. 

The Maoists have also exploited the geographical conditions and terrain of these districts for their activities. According to the Maharashtra state Forest Department, 47.08 per cent of the total area in Gondia district is designated as 'forest'; in Gadchiroli the forest area is 90.96 per cent; in Bhandara, 45.58 per cent; in Chandrapur, 46.69 per cent; in Yavatmal, 27.35 per cent; and in Nanded, 11.35 per cent. The scheduled tribe population – populations that have been highly vulnerable to Maoist mobilization – in these districts is also comparatively higher. With the state tribal percentage at 8.8 per cent, Gadchiroli's tribal population is 38.3 per cent; Yavatmal, 19.2 per cent; Chandrapur, 18.11 per cent; Gondia, 18 per cent; Nanded, 8.8 per cent; and Bhandara, 8.6 per cent.

Given the existing challenge, the Maharashtra police, especially its Anti-Naxal Cell overseeing counter-Maoist operations, has claimed to have secured several successes in the recent past. Arrests and surrenders of the CPI-Maoist cadres are said to have been a major accomplishment of the Anti-Naxal Cell. Some of the incidents in which Maoist cadres were neutralised in just 2007 include: 

January 15: Seven Maoists were arrested following a joint operation by the Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh police in a border village in the Gadchiroli district. 

April 8: Four senior CPI-Maoist cadres surrendered at an unspecified location. 

April 14: CPI-Maoist cadre, Kata Mainu Zuru, involved in several cases, was arrested near Fulbodi in the Pendhari area of Gadchiroli district. 

April 14: Three Maoists, identified as Chhaya, Dilip and Shiva, surrendered before the Superintendent of police of Gadchiroli district.

September 13: Police neutralised a base training camp of the CPI-Maoist in Etapalli Tehsil (revenue division) in Jambiagatta range in the Gadchiroli district and arrested four unidentified teenage boys and three girls. 

The Maharashtra police have also claimed to have curtailed the flow of cadres to Maoist ranks. Maoist recruitment in both Gadchiroli and Chandrapur districts is said to have been drastically reduced, forcing the outfit to wind up several of its dalams (armed squads) in the Gadchiroli and Gondia districts by June 2007 and shifting the existing cadres into Chhattisgarh. The dalams that have folded up include the Gamini, Kotagaon, Dhanora and Jimmalgatta. 

Nevertheless, the Maoists have carried out attacks targeting not only state police personnel, government offices and infrastructures, but have also carried out a campaign against ‘police informers’ and their own surrendered colleagues. In the first three months of 2007, at least eight surrendered Maoists were killed by their former comrades in Gadchiroli, Gondia and Chandrapur districts. At least four incidents of suspected police informers being killed by the Maoists have been reported from Gadchiroli district in 2007 (till end-September). 

Police ‘successes’ have, in fact, been largely incidental, and the state’s anti-Maoist policy suffers from several drawbacks. Each of these existing loopholes has the potential of allowing the Maoists to regain their lost bases.

Among the state’s initiatives is the Gaonbandi (no entry to the villages) scheme that has been implemented since 2003, to prevent the Maoists from exploiting, mobilizing and recruiting the villagers. As part of the Scheme, any local village body or panchayat passing a resolution barring entry to the Maoists, is provided with Rs 200,000, to be paid in two instalments. Regrettably, the implementation of the Scheme has been far from adequate. Till the end of 2006, only 112 of the total of 324 Gaonbandi villages (villages that had banned Maoist entry) had been given the assured funds. Of these, only 73 villages received the full amount of Rs 200,000. In November 2006, the Maharashtra government increased the reward amount to Rs 300,000, to be paid in one instalment. However, the Scheme continues to be marred by a poor record of disbursement of the promised funds.

The state police’s surrender scheme, introduced on August 29, 2005, has also faced problems of fund shortage. The policy offers Rs 200,000 for a dalam commander, Rs 100,000 for his deputy, Rs 75,000 for dalam members, and Rs 40,000 to Rs 5,000 to lower rank cadres who surrender. The state government had initially decided to keep aside Rs 50 million for the scheme, only to withdraw this amount, asking the perennially cash-strapped police department to meet the expenses from its regular fund. By February 2007, Maharashtra police chief, P. S. Pasricha, was expressing concerns about the shortage of funds and its negative impact on the surrender policy. 

Similarly, little success appears to have achieved in terms of disrupting the Maoist network that has targeted the forest areas in the Vidarbha region through any state scheme to deliver financial benefits. Way back in December 2000, deposing before the Estimates Committee of the state legislature, then Principal Secretary (Home) M.R. Patil had stated that forest contractors, tendu leaf (leaves of diospyros melonoxylon used for rolling bidis) traders and local businessmen in the Maoist -affected areas of Maharashtra were being forced to fund the extremists in the state out of fear. According to state police officials, Gadchiroli district alone, had been coughing up nearly Rs 140 million every year from the trade in tendu leaves and bamboo produce. Of late, teakwood smuggling from Gadchiroli forests had overtaken extortion from tendu leaf and bamboo contractors, as the prime venture for Maoist resource generation. The largest proportion of this trade reportedly occurs on the banks of the Godavari River, along the Maharashtra-Andhra Pradesh border in south Gadchiroli. Money passing into Maoist coffers ranges between Rs 200 to 500 for a 3.70 metre-long plank of teakwood. 

The orientation of the anti-Maoist strategy in Maharashtra appears to be prejudiced heavily towards containing the violent potential of the outfit. Accordingly, the Maharashtra Police have invested substantially on augmenting the fighting capabilities of its force. At the forefront of anti-Maoist operations in the Vidarbha region is a Special Action Group (SAG) of 300 specially trained Armed police personnel, raised in 2006 on the lines of the Greyhounds in Andhra Pradesh. Trained at the Unconventional Operations Training Centre (UOTC) at Hingana on the outskirts of Nagpur, SAG personnel have been deployed in Gadchiroli, Gondia and Bhandara districts. 

The Maharashtra Police can rightly take credit for having contained Maoist violence within manageable limits, but there appears to be a bigger challenge at hand: countering the emerging Maoist potential to carry out urban operations. Three arrests in 2007 have brought this tactic into the open, as the Maoists consolidate capacities in urban centres to station their propaganda units and middle and senior level strategists. 

On May 8, the Nagpur police arrested Arun Ferreira, the Maoist communications and propaganda strategist, and a Maoist ‘divisional secretary’ Murali Sattya Reddy, from the Deekshabhoomi area, seizing a 9mm Chinese-made pistol, two magazines, 16 rounds of ammunition, two VCDs, an MP3 CD, and a notepad containing information on the manufacture of improvised explosive devices and the use of walkie-talkies in operations.

On August 19, two Maoists – Vishnu alias Shridhar Krishnan Shrinivas, Maharashtra ‘state secretary’ and a member of the central politburo, and Vikram alias Vernon Gonzalez, a National Committee member – were arrested from the outskirts of Mumbai. Six gelatine sticks, one hand grenade, revolvers and cash were recovered from them, in addition to incriminating documents, CDs and pen-drives. 

On August 20, in a joint operation with the Andhra Pradesh police, the Anti-Terrorism Squad of the Maharashtra police arrested K. D. Rao, a lawyer practising in the Bombay High Court, outside the YMCA hostel near Colaba in Mumbai for his alleged links with the Maoists and involvement in the killing of a police officer six years ago. 

Maoist mobilisation and networks have long been suspected in Maharashtra’s urban centres, including Nashik, Pune and state capital Mumbai. A large number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in these urban areas are believed to be funding and otherwise supporting the Maoists. In 2006, the state intelligence department had blacklisted 59 such Mumbai-based NGOs. Nevertheless, Maoist consolidation in urban Maharashtra is believed to be continuing apace, with the police handicapped by a wide range of legal and constitutional constraints that prohibit significant action against over-ground collaborators, and a conscious effort on the part of the Maoists to exploit every available democratic loophole. 

Operational successes by the police are, no doubt, significant. Much more will, however, be needed in terms of a strategy of containment and defence against the creeping Maoist consolidation in widening areas of the state, and to plug the unique vulnerabilities of a democratic system, compounded by the structural infirmities and lack of resources committed to policing in the state, and across the country. The recent police ‘successes’ provide little grounds for the euphoric statements that followed, and the Maoists challenge can be expected to hang heavy over Maharashtra for some time to come. 

Bibhu Prasad Routray is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal

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