Maoist Menace Stalks Odisha
Despite tall claims of Naveen Patnaik-led BJD government of Odisha projecting itself as a number one state in the country for providing 4,72,391 acres of forest land to 2,92,500 tribal families under Scheduled Tribe and Other Tradition Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, Maoist violence in the state continues unabated. When the state is gearing up for three-tier Panchayat elections and filing up nomination has just begun, Maoists have gone on a killing spree, Junus Pradhan, leader of the ruling BJD and chairman of Daringibadi Block in Kandhamal district was arrested on January 9 by local police for his involvement in the land mine blast occurred on January 5 and for his alleged link with Maoists.
Apart from this, with the fast election coming, the security of people’s representatives has been the cause of concern for both the government and people’s representatives themselves. State Election Commission has already asked the state government to provide PSOs and security personals to Ministers, MPs and MLAs of the 19 Naxal-affected districts. Of 20 Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs from these districts eight of them have been provided with PSOs. Similarly, 43 MLAs out of 90 representing 19 Maoist-infested districts have yet not been provided with complete security cover. This has been necessitated after the killing of a sitting MLA Jagabandhu Majhi from Umerkote in Nabarangpur district on September 24, 2011, allegedly by Maoists.
The very first week of January 2012 witnessed four incidents of Maoist violence in four separate districts of Koraput, Kandhamal, Ganjam and Baragarh. On January 6, armed rebels killed Kadraka Enkana, a tribal of Elanga Walas village under Maoist-infested Bandhugaon Block in Koraput, branding him as a police informer. Just a day before they had triggered a powerful landmine to blow an anti-landmine vehicle on Kotagada-Srirampur road in Kandhamal which killed three constables and three other police personnel were critically injured. Senior police officers described the incident as violation of Standard Operational Procedures (SOP) by low-ranking security personnel. On January 3, Maoist guerrillas set ablaze at least three mobile towers in Borada and Gaudagotha villages under Baragada Police Station in Ganjam. Further, the Left Wing ultras had also laid siege to Nuapara-Bargarh Highway for 26 hours from January 2, to mark their statewide bandh call. The call was given to commemorate People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) week. All this happened despite the plan for preparation of joint command operation in parts of Southern Odisha which was just scheduled to begin for which state DGP and CRPF DG with top brass of Odisha Police, BSF, Cobra Battalion were out in Koraput on New Year’s Day to take stock of and strategise a joint operation.
Interestingly, state government data shows a reverse trend. For instance, the data of last year reveals that Maoist violence was somehow declined in 2011 in comparison with 2010. The latest review by state police administration said that Odisha had witnessed 130 number of Maoist violence in the year 2010 which had come down to 94 in 2011. Similarly, 53 civilians were killed by ultras in 2010, whereas in 2011 only 31 people were killed. Likewise, 22 security personnel fell victim to red rebels in 2010, on the other hand, only five police personnel were gunned down by rebels, and nine more security personnel from Chhattisgarh were slained in Nuapara, Odisha.
There had been a sharp decline of landmine blasts by these Left Wing insurgents. In 2010 they had planted 37 blasts whereas in 2011 there were only 12 incidents. Besides these the number of surrenders increased from 44 in 2010 to 50 in 2011, so is the number of seized arms and ammunition 47 guns/rifles were seized by security men in 2010 which—rose to 125 in 2011, similarly landmines from 77 to 255. However, Maoists have succeeded in spreading their tentacles from length to breadth of the state. After their hold in industrial belts like Rayagada, Keonjhar, Jajpur, Dhenkanal and Angul now they are eyeing another industrial rich district Jharsuguda through Barapahad hill range of Baragarh; which spreads to Chhattisgarh and part of Sambalpur also stretches to Hirakud Dam and then Jharsuguda.
For forty-year-old Budu Sabar of Mohana Block in Gajapati district life has been a living hell. He had never imagined a day escaping from armed police force marching on the road towards the nearest forest areas for combing operation and so is the news of Naxals moving from here to there. Budu, a wage labour, ekes out a living and runs his family of five depending on forest resources and occasional wage work. Similar is the story of Raju Jhankar of Komana Block in Nuapara district. Raju, who was earning his livelihood selling broomsticks in a nearby market area, is now under regular scrutiny from police and sometimes faces the indirect diktats of Naxals operating in Sunabedha plateau. Raju was among thousands of tribals who were earlier facing the wrath of forest officials as illegal settlers inside the sanctuary and are now facing many roadblocks. He has almost lost his livelihood as a petty trader fearing both police and Naxals. Not only Budu and Raju, there are hundreds of thousands of tribals, poor and innocent people are virtually living on the edge with apprehensions of arrest, attack and fear with no fault of theirs.
Caught between a crossfire of Maoists and Police for tribals basically forest dwellers for whom development is still a distant dream, exploitation is a day-to-day affair, basic governance is a far cry and Naxal-Police encounter and violence have been the order of the day. During the recent years there has been a spurt in Maoist activities in the state. Thanks to maladministration, and regional imbalance, the state which had two Naxal-prone districts —Malkangiri and Gajapati—only few years back, now has 19 out of 30 districts reported as Maoist infested. The Union Government-sponsored Integrated Action Plan (IAP) which had earlier covered six districts of the state out of 60 selected tribal and backward districts in the country, had covered 15 districts of the state on November 25, 2010. The Ministry of Panchayati Raj had sanctioned Rs 25 crore for each district which was further escalated to Rs 30 crore.
However, in a recent communiqué by Union Home Ministry issued on December 9, Union Cabinet has approved the inclusion of three more districts (Ganjam, Jajpur and Nayagarh) under IAP that means 18 districts of the state are officially Naxal affected and 18 more districts in the country also. Till date GoI has spent Rs 1,391 crore on this project. The sanctioned amount will be spent raising basic infrastructure such as roads, bridges, school building, electricity, water and sanitation facilities. But reports tell a different story. A large part of the funds has either been diverted for other purposes or for lower-ranking government officials with local contractors and politicians are siphoning off these funds by constructing poor roads. Apart from this, GoI has also gave Rs 133 crore to modernise and fortify 77 police stations, insurance of 10 lakh for police and paramilitary persons, 25 per cent special allowance for armed forces deployed in Naxal areas etc. State government also announced special packages for Naxal-affected areas and police personnel.
Besides the deployment of state armed police forces, Centre has placed 14 companies of CRPF and five battalions of BSF, ITBP, a COBRA battalion and Pawan Hans Helicopter in Odisha to coordinate joint combing and anti-Naxal operation. A high-level joint command is also working under the chairmanship of state Chief Secretary. Union government has already decided to raise two more battalions of BSF and to deploy seven more helicopters in anti-Maoist operation. These two additional battalions will be posted in Odisha and Chhattisgarh. This will increase the strength of total paramilitary deployment in states engaged in anti-Naxal operation to 93,000. According to Khuturam Sunani, a social activist in Nuapara, “Many of these funds have been diverted for non-priority areas and non-targeted areas. Government could have provided drinking water, upgraded irrigation facilities and restored basic health and education facilities by utilising these funds. I am afraid these funds are not reaching out to the affected areas for which these are meant.”
Whatever the reason, despite a plethora of programmes, policies and projects to wean away tribals from Naxals it has not succeeded. Maoists have already paralysed administration in many places of Malkangiri, Rayagad, Koraput, Gajapati, Kandhamal, Nuapara, Baragarh, Bolangir, Sundergarh and Keonjhar.
By Sudarshan Chhotoray from Bhubaneswar