Nuapada: The New Maoist Pasture Of Odisha
The emergence of Nuapada District of Odisha as one of the ‘hotbeds’ of Communist Party of India- Maoist (CPI-Maoist) activity has sent alarm bells amongst the Security Forces (SFs) operating in the area. It is believed that the Maoists use Nuapada as one of their transit routes to Chhattisgarh and hiding place to orchestrate their activity in the nearby districts. The last week killing of three Maoists, couple of encounters and seizure of arms haul in Balangir and Bargarh Districts reinforce the apprehension that the region as a whole and Nuapada in particular is fast turning out to be a ‘New Pasture’ for the red rebels.
Earlier, speaking at the Chief Minister’s Conference on Internal Security in New Delhi on June 5, held in the backdrop of May 25 CPI-Maoist attack on Congress Party convoy in Chhattisgarh, Odisha Chief Minister Neveen Patnaik demanded deployment of two additional Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) battalions and a MI-17 military helicopter to contain fresh build-up by the Maoists in Nuapada, Balangir and Bargarh Districts of western Odisha. He contended that heavy deployment of SFs across the border in Chhattisgarh was pushing the Maoists into the State and two additional battalions should be provided to match the deployment in Nuapada, Bargarh and Balangir Districts.
Further, in a letter written to 13 State Governments, which was based on an intelligence assessment on the Maoists’ effort at expansion as on March 8, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) acknowledged the fact that the Maoists have formed the Chhattisgarh-Odisha Border State Committee with three divisions to operate
in Mahasamund, Gariaband and Dhamtari Districts in Chhattisgarh side of the interstate border and Balangir, Bargarh and Nuapada Districts in Odisha side of the border. “This has helped create a corridor between
the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee area on the one hand, and Bihar-Jharkhand-North Chhattisgarh Special Area Committee area on the other,” the letter said. It added that the area needed “to be closely monitored in view of the party’s [CPI-Maoist] plans to convert Sunabeda forest area in Nuapada District into a base area.”
Underlining the strategic importance of Sunabeda sanctuary for Maoists, the Union Rural Development Minister (URDM) Jairam Ramesh in his letter to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik wrote, “In Nuapada District, it is clear that the incidents of Maoist violence have gone up sharply in the last few years. The Sunabeda forest area has become the hub of Maoist activity and the attacks on the neighbouring Districts like Kalahandi and Balangir are being executed from Sunabeda area.” Ramesh was proposing a ‘special development plan’ in the Sunabeda area in the line of Saranda Development Plan in Jharkhand. Nuapada District was part of Kalahandi District of Odisha and became a separate entity in April 1993. It is surrounded by Mahasamund and Gariaband Districts of Chhattisgarh on one side and Bargarh, Balangir and Kalahandi Districts of Odisha on the other side. Its close proximity to the Maoist ‘hotbed’ of Bastar region, dense forest, porous border and hilly terrain (eastern ghats), inaccessible areas and little Police presence make it a good strategic place for the Maoists.
Maoist violence in the District is a very recent development. In 2010, there was a single civilian casualty caused by Maoists which did not attract much attention. However, in 2011, Maoists triggered a landmine blast in Sunabeda forest killing nine Policemen, including the Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) of Gariabandh District, Chhattisgarh. They were part of a 10-member team of Chhattisgarh Police which had crossed the border and moved about 15 kilometres into Odisha following reports of Maoist movement in the area. The year witnessed four civilian killings by Maoists in the District. The violence was followed up in 2012 with at least two civilian killings and one Policeman killing. In 2013 so far, there has been only one civilian fatality, the killing of a Sikhya Sahayak, on the usual charge of being a ‘police informer’ in the district. Interestingly, not a single Maoist fatality has been recorded in the District in these years. Apart from being involved in killings, the Maoists have also indulged in few other incidents of landmine blast, arson, abduction and bandh calls.
After the killing of the Sikhya Sahayak by the Maoists in Pathpani village in the District on February 8, 2013, about hundred villagers left the village in fear of the Maoists. They met the Nuapada District Collector and Superintendent of Police (SP) on March 6, 2013, and appealed to treat them as displaced persons. They had even, appealed to the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to relocate them to some other village.
Sensing the urgency of the situation, the Rural Development Minister, Jairam Ramesh who visited Nuapada on February 16, subsequently wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying “My visit to Nuapada reinforces a point I have been making to you often that we need to enhance the presence of the central government those hotspots which are in the bi-junction and tri-junction areas. Many of these ‘hotspots’ are in remote and inaccessible areas, which call for decisive intervention on our part by expanding the social and physical infrastructure.” Interestingly, the Minister could not visit the Sunabeda Sanctuary, a 625 sq km area in the District on advice of the District Police considering the Maoist thereat who splashed posters all around opposing Ramesh’s visit. The area’s Member of Parliament Bhakta Charan Das and local legislator too have been unable to visit the area for the last three years.
ENCOUNTER BOOSTS COPS MORALE
The Maoist violence which was on rise over the years in Odisha has undoubtedly come down in the recent times after the deployment of central paramilitary forces like Border Security Force (BSF) and Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) in Malkangiri, Koraput, Rayagada, Nawarangpur and Gajpati districts of Southern Odisha, which is better termed as Maoist hotbed by the Union Home Ministry.
Against this backdrop, the September 14 encounter on the Odisha-Chhattisgarh border at Silakota forest in Malkangiri district was the biggest ever operation in Odisha, probably in the whole country, in the terms of causality that claimed thirteen Maoist lives. It was a celebration time in the state police headquarters on the day. Jubilant over the success of the state police, the state Director General of Police Prakash Mishra, before leaving Bhubaneswar along with his operation and Intel team for Malkangiri to review the post-encounter situation there, even dared the Maoists from other states not to enter Odisha.
The Police DG who flew to Malkangiri in the afternoon on the encounter day lauded the Superintendent of Police Akhileswar Singh who led the hour-long exchange of fire along with his 40-member team of Special Operation Group (SOG) and District Voluntary Forces (DVF) daring the rebels deep inside the dense forest area which came to an end with the killing of thirteen ultras including a woman cadre. However, seventeen others including the mastermind Rakesh managed to escape during the exchange of fire. The cops have recovered huge cache of arms including eleven country-made guns, one AK-47 rifle, pistols and ammunition from the rebels hideout during the operation. Replying to the queries of this correspondent, the DG justified the encounter as the biggest achievement on the operation front as the cops fought the gun battle with the ultras on their own without the involvement of the central forces. The state’s top cop said, “We are happy that morale of the state police has been boosted after the encounter and it is another blow to the frustrated Maoists indulged in the indiscriminate killing of the innocents.”
Though the DGP was happy over the success of the police in the operation against the rebels who have posed the greatest challenge to the internal security of the country, he said killing somebody doesn’t gives pleasure to us, but when things are imposed on us, we have to fight it.
With the cops are yet to come out with the details about the slain members of the red brigade, the two-member National Investigating Agency (NIA) from Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh has arrived at Malkangiri to identify the bodies and to ascertain whether the slain rebels had any role in the Darbha valley massacre of May 25. However, no headway was made in the identification process by the time of writing this report. Officials of Andhra Pradesh State Intelligence Branch (SIB) have also arrived to share information with the police and to know whether the slain rebels had any involvement in crimes in their state.
The Maoist group that camped there was suspected to have been involved in the May 25 attack on a Congress convoy in Bastar District of Chhattisgarh, which killed senior party leaders VC Shukla, Mahendra Karma and about 19 others.
Now, it remains to see, how the state police, under the leadership of DGP Prakash Mishra, meets the security challenges in the times to come, while putting the rebels on the back foot.
By Kishor Dash from Bhubaneswar
Ramesh’s attempt to score brownie points over the State Government apart, his call for ‘greater Central Government presence’ highlights the poor social and physical infrastructure of the District. Years of Government apathy has made the District one of the most backward Districts in Odisha without even basic facilities of communication, health, education, electricity, etc.
In order to bridge the development gap and to counter the Maoist influence in the Sunabeda sanctuary area, the State Government has decided to form ‘Sunabeda Area Development Agency (SADA)” by converging welfare schemes being implemented under various departments. The agency is to be manned by professional manpower for effective planning, implementation and monitoring. Its activities will cover four blocks, 12 gram panchayats and 86 villages. The State Government has identified 11 different sectoral interventions including drinking water and sanitation, improved health services, women and child development, quality education, improved infrastructure with all-weather road connectivity, electricity, housing and development of water resources. The project has an estimated cost of INR 2.3929 billion for duration of five years. The decision to form SADA apparently came after suggestion to the effect was made by the Rural Development Minister who claimed similar development plan in Saranda forest of Jharkhand is being implemented with “positive” results.
The need to flush out Maoists from the area is the first precondition for implementation of such special development plans. Unfortunately, no such security operation has been undertaken so far. However, underdevelopment of the area has received much attention, thanks to wide reporting of starvation-deaths in Kalahandi District (of which Nuapada was a part till 1993) in 1980s much before Maoists came to the picture in the District ‘causing hindrance’ to developmental works by the State. And since then numerous special plans have been implemented in the area with little impact. The basic issue of governance, the ability to implement plans and programmes is hardly anything that bothers the State.
The vacancy level in the District’s thin civil administration structure provides enough scope for poor governance and inefficiency in plan and programme implementation. According to the data provided by the Nuapada District Collector Smt Guha Poonam Tapas Kumar (IAS) as on June 31, 2013, overall 369 positions (17.99 percent) out of the total sanctioned strength of 2051 posts are vacant in the civil administration of the District Crucially, in the District Rural Development Authority (DRDA) (Panchayatiraj department), 3 out 4 class-I and 3 out 5 class-II posts are vacant. Likewise, in the District Collector’s office, 4 out 15 class-I positions and 2 out 2 class-II posts are vacant. In Chief District Medical Officer’s office 5 of 25 class-I and 25 out of 50 class-II posts are vacant. Stories of other departments are not very different. However, in the home department, there is no vacant positions in class-I and class-II category but in class-III there are 35 vacant positions out of the 412 sanctioned positions. It is important to note here that the district’s population is 606,490 (2011 census) and out of total area of 3852 square kilometres, 1229 square kilometres are under forest cover (very dense: 85 square kilometres; moderately dense: 481 square kilometres and open forest: 663 square kilometres). That translates to just 10.38 policemen per 100 square kilometres and 66 policemen per 100,000 population which is highly inadequate.
The new Maoist safe haven in Nuapada District—especially the Sunabeda Sanctuary—is a clear case of Maoists moving into areas experiencing severe lack of governance which are also strategically important for the protracted peoples’ war. Lacking political will to bring about real change in governance, announcements of new development schemes will hardly do anything better in the fight against CPI-Maoist.
By Mrinal Kanta Das