The Maoist Insurgency In Chhattisgarh
I had recently visited the Reserve Forest areas of some districts of Chhattisgarh with a wellknown fact finding organisation. We visited several forest villages on the Chhattisgarh, Odisha border inhabited by adivasi people, interacted with a number of local adivasi villagers, met local officials and made an assessment of the ongoing Maoist insurgency. I am not naming the individual local inhabitants with whom we interacted for obvious reasons. My conclusion is that it is entirely the fault of the State government and also the Central government for the insurgency to develop and worse it is not resorting to the legal remedy to solve this insurgency.
The fundamental issue in the root cause of this insurgency is because the Governor of the State is not exercising his mandate under the Constitution of India. The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution states unequivocally, that it is the Governor of the State who will administer the Scheduled areas of the state by appointing a Tribes Advisory Council from among the tribes living in the Fifth Schedule areas of the state, who will then under the provisions of the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) constitute panchayats who will then negotiate with mining companies for exploring the forest areas underground for locating minerals and then after establishing the availability of minerals allot mining companies after calling for tenders to mine the areas concerned. The profits of the minerals extracted will then be taken by the Panchayat concerned for the benefit of the forest dwellers. The Governor of Chhattisgarh has not done this. As a result, it is the Deputy Commissioner of the district where the Scheduled forests of the state are located, who is administering the forest areas. The tribals have been denied their rights. It is the Maoist-Communist party who has entered into this vacant space and is organising the tribals to fight against the State.
As a result of this blatant omission by the Governor of the State, we have a situation where the forest tribals have been organised by the Maoist Communist party to fight against the Government. The Government has deployed several battalions of armed police in the forest to fight the Maoist cadres organising the adivasi villagers whose rights have been violated by the government.
There has been an unnecessary expansion of the armed-police battalions of the state to fight the Maoists and the local tribes who have been motivated by the Maoists. There is an enormous increase in expenditure both by the State and the Centre in deploying forces to fight the Maoists.
I am from the Assam cadre and I have seen insurgency for my first days in Assam way back in the 1960’s. I have been trained in Counter Insurgency and I have operated on the ground in the North-East and in Kashmir for several years. There are several cardinal rules when the State is faced with an insurgency that it should follow. The first is to find out why a civilian group has taken to the gun to fight the State? Once the reason is understood, one should explain the issue to the leaders of the State and persuade them to rectify the administration and remove the causes which has forced the civilian people to take to the gun. Once this is done, the insurgency will wither away. Secondly during the phase when the insurgency is countered the forces should be scrupulously legal. This will be possible only if the forces deployed are well trained in counter insurgency. One has to be scrupulously legal in a counter insurgency, because the people are fighting for a cause, because they are fighting for their rights. They are not criminals; they have been denied their rights and the State has forced them to fight. Regrettably, all that happens after the State has deliberately neglected the rights of their citizens is that a couple of battalions of the State Armed Police or the CRPF are sent to the insurgency area. They occupy whatever accommodation is available, invariably school buildings and go after the local people for sheltering insurgents, get ambushed and in such situations invariably take it out on the local civilians.
I have ground experience of insurgencies. I was posted as the Inspector General Operations in 1990 in Assam and operated for more than two years against the United Liberation Front of Assam, whose cadres were trained by the Kachin Independent Army in Myanmar. The first direction that I gave all the officers of Assam Police was that if any ULFA cadre was picked up by any Police station, he should not be beaten or tortured. I used to travel all over the Assam valley and interrogate the arrested cadres myself. This order, not liked by the police station personnel paid of excellent dividends. After an year of fighting, the ULFA cadres who had gone to Pakistan through Bangladesh decided to come back and surrender, the first contacts were made to me and within days several ULFA cadres who had gone to Pakistan for training were meeting me and the ULFA surrendered.
In this background what I witnessed in the insurgency affected districts of Chhattisgarh was a police force who were only antogonising the local adivasi population. None of the Chhattisgarh Armed force battalions seemed to have a clue how to fight an insurgency. The police are resorting to picking up innocent adivasi people and forwarding them as Maoists. The forces had occupied whatever accomodation was available in the interior forests. The answer to this insurgency was so absurdly simple. All that had to be done was for the Governor to exercise his rights under the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution and set up Tribes Advisory Councils through whom he had to administer the forests and report to the President of India. The adivasis, the original settlers of these forests would thus get their due by marketing forest produce. The State would benefit and the State Armed Police battalions need not flounder in the forests harassing the tribals.
By not applying the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, and letting the Tribals living in the forests administer their forests by forming tribal panchayats, the whole area is in turmoil. The saddest part of the story is that a wholly inadequately trained Armed Police Force is unnecessarily forced to live and operate in the forests. If the Governor would exercise his powers under the Fifth Schedule, the tribals will be happy to administer themselves and they would benefit both themselves and the State.
Regrettably, today the armed battalions deployed in the forests are only earning a bad name for themselves. We received a number of complaints that the police forces deployed would extract local produce from the tribals and would not pay for it. Several adivasi residents of the forest complained to us that the police forces sent on patrol demand food from the tribals and do not pay for it.
There were more serious cases. In on instance reported, on November 3, 2015, police shot three tribals — Dudhi Bheema, and two others of Arampalli village. The villagers told us that they were returning after cutting crops and were innocent. The two other tribals were made too carry the body of Dudhi Beema, and when they reached their camp the other two were also shot dead.
It is learnt that several agreements have been signed by the Chhattisgarh government and mining companies to extract ore from the forests in Chattisgarh. All these are illegal. It is only the GramSabha appointed by the Governor who can sign an agreement with any mining company.
I feel the Central Government should immediately enquire into all the deals being signed in Chhattisgarh concerning Forest land. The only course is for the Governor to appoint tribal cooperatives who can sign agreements with mining companies.
If the Governor of Chhattisgarh observes the law of the land and administers the Forest land as per the Fifth Schedule, the insurgency in Chhattisgarh will wither away and there will be no occasion for police officers to act like swashbuckling cowboys like in Western cowboy films.
By E N Rammohan
(The writer is former Director General, BSF)