Bihar Assessment - 2009
Bihar has an abysmal record in law and order management, and has long been in the stranglehold of Left Wing Extremism (LWE). The Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) virtually rules parts of the State, creating a serious challenge for the Government, with a number of officials unable even to carry out their routine functions in various Districts. One December 7, 2008, report, for instance, indicates that Rajiv Kumar, the Block Development Officer of Dumaria in the Gaya District, had not been able to attend office for more than three months, fearing an attack by the CPI-Maoist. Kumar, who had survived an ambush on August 9, 2008, has since been functioning from the Divisional Headquarters at Gaya.
So enveloping is the fear that, responding to a Maoist diktat, 64 activists of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) alliance – Janata Dal-United (JD-U and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – in the Islampur Assembly constituency of Gaya District, on May 4, 2008, announced that they would resign from the primary membership of their parties. Official sources disclosed that the CPI-Maoist cadres had earlier abducted 37 NDA activists from Imamganj, Banke Bazaar and Dumaria blocks in the District on April 29, 2008, and had taken them to the Chakrabanda Hill area. They later released them on the condition that they would resign from their parties by May 4, 2008.
Yet, in the run-up to celebrations of three years of the NDA coalition in office, the Deputy Chief Minister (CM) and BJP leader, Sushil Kumar Modi, on November 24, 2008, boasted that the State had not witnessed a ‘major’ incident of Naxalite (LWE) violence during his Government’s tenure – the NDA Government took oath on November 24, 2005 – despite 19 of the State’s 38 Districts falling in the ‘high-risk zone’. According to Modi, the NDA Government "holds that Naxals are not criminals and, hence, must not be treated like ones (sic)... Naxalism has political content. Now, Naxals are not seen in fetters in jails."
It is not clear that what the Deputy CM meant by ‘major’ incident – as many as 19 Maoist-related incidents in each of which more than three persons were killed, have occurred in the State since November 24, 2005. In the most daring attack, a group of 250 cadres of the CPI-Maoist carried out simultaneous attacks on the Rajpur Police Station and Baghaila Outpost in the Rohtas District, killing six Police personnel and seven civilians on June 30, 2007. Eight persons, including four Policemen, were injured in the attack. The Maoists also blew up the Police Station and Outpost using dynamite, after looting four self-loading rifles, eight .303 rifles, two INSAS rifles and three carbines, besides hundreds of rounds of ammunition. As many as seven major incidents have been reported in the year 2008 itself.
Insurgency related fatalities in Bihar: 1999-2008
It is, of course, significant that overall fatalities have demonstrated declining trends in Bihar over the past years, from their peak in 1999. Unsurprisingly, while releasing the "Comparative Crime Data of Bihar From 2001 till 2008 (November)" the State’s Director General of Police (DGP) D. N. Gautam on December 25, 2008, claimed that the overall crime situation in Bihar had improved. He disclosed that, while 2007 accounted for a total of 2,963 murders, the figure stood at 2,797 up to November 2008. Talking about LWE, Gautam said that 42 civilians were killed during the current year in 75 cases of CPI-Maoist attacks. While 14 Maoists and 20 Policemen were also killed in encounters between Police and Maoists, the State Police arrested 442 Maoists, including 43 self-proclaimed area / zonal commanders. The Police also recovered 132 firearms, including 18 that had been looted, and 17,098 cartridges from the Naxalites.
The Bihar Government unveiled its ‘three-pronged strategy’ to deal with the LWE problem in July 2007, comprising the simultaneous mounting of an offensive against the extremists, the strengthening of intelligence networks and undertaking development schemes as an ‘anti-dote’ against the rampaging Maoists. Since April 2006, in a bid to tide over its dependence on the Central Para-Military Forces (CPMFs) and to fill up the deficit of trained personnel, the Government raised the 5,000-strong State Auxiliary Police (SAP), comprising retired Army personnel, and deployed them in sensitive Districts. The SAP has since been expanded to include another 11,500 personnel.
Speaking at the Conference of Directors General of Police and Inspectors Genral of Police on November 22, 2008, the then Union Minster for Home Affairs, Shivraj Patil, had said that, in Bihar, the situation had improved by ‘more than 40 per cent’. However, lower levels of violence do not mean that the State has reclaimed territory from the rebels or secured any dramatic victories. Indeed, the number of Districts affected by Maoist activity in Bihar has remained more or less the same. There are variations in the levels and patterns of Maoist activity, but the larger picture remains unchanged. The CPI-Maoist has clearly expressed its intent to capture power across the length and breadth of the country, and has established Regional, State and Special Zonal Committees to oversee this grand enterprise, which presently leaves only a handful of areas outside its scope. The rising violence in neighbouring Jharkhand and Orissa is an index of the Maoist intent, and Bihar cannot be exempt unless declines in violence are a consequence of operational successes by the Security Forces (SFs).
It is notable that, with 71 fatalities in 2008, the level of LWE violence has remained roughly stable, in comparison to 2007, which accounted for 69 fatalities. While civilian and SF fatalities saw a marginal decline, there was a surge in Maoists killed, with the number rising from just two in 2007 to 15 in 2008 (according to the ICM database). Over the past five years, a State Home Department official disclosed on December 26, 76 Policemen and 63 rebels had been killed in 130 shoot-outs between the Police and CPI-Maoist activists in Bihar over the past five years. The total incidents also demonstrated some decline – with 114 in 2008 and 135 in 2007. The largest number of incidents were reported from Gaya District (30), which accounted for the largest number of fatalities in terms of SFs (8); followed by Jamui (total fatalities, 12), which also accounted for the largest civilian fatalities (9); Aurangabad (9) and Rohtas (8). Deo, Madanpur, Rafiganj and Nabinagar under Aurangabad District and Barachatti, Mohanpur, Tekari, Fatehpur and Tankuppa Police Stations under Gaya District are considered the worst affected Police Stations of Bihar. Notably all these areas in Southern Bihar are adjacent to the Jharkhand, the second worst affected State, corroborating the fact that the Maoists movement is unimpeded across the ‘Red Corridor’. There have been some reports of the movement of Nepalese Maoists in the Northern Districts of East and West Champaran as well. Consequently, in a bid to strengthen security along the porous Indo-Nepal border, the Union Government, on November 26, 2008, announced that two integrated check posts, each, would be set up in Bihar and Nepal. Work on setting up the integrated check posts would begin in April 2009 and would be completed by March 2011. In Bihar, the check posts would be set up in the Districts of East and West Champaran.
The major incidents involving Maoists attacks include the following:
November 16, 2008: Four members of a family were shot dead by a group of armed cadres of the CPI-Maoist at Kohbarba Rasulpur village in the East Champaran District.
November 15, 2008: Three villagers, identified as Madan Singh, Chhote Lal Singh and Mahesh Singh, were abducted and subsequently killed by Naxalites for refusing to pay levy at Kharik Maheshwari village under the Sono Police Station of Jamui District. The bodies of the three villagers, with their throats slit, were later found from Charka Patthal Bazar, some 300-metres from Kharik Maheshwari in the morning of November 16.
August 21, 2008: Six Policemen, two CPI-Maoist cadres and a civilian were killed in an exchange of fire after Maoists carried out an attack on the Policemen who had come for a routine inspection of a branch of the Punjab National Bank at the Raniganj village in the Gaya District.
April 13, 2008: Six persons, including five SF personnel and a porter, were killed in an attack by the CPI-Maoist cadres at Jhajha railway Station in the Jamui District.
April 10, 2008: CPI-Maoist cadres killed six persons belonging to the Sashastra People’s Morcha (SSM, Armed People’s Front) in the Tardih forest of Rohtas District. The slain persons, natives of Barachatti and Mohanpur blocks of Gaya District, were former members of the CPI-Maoist and had formed the SSM to assist the Police.
February 21, 2008: Suspected CPI-Maoist cadres shot dead three farmers at Pipra village under the jurisdiction of the Darpa Police Station in the East Champaran District.
January 1, 2008: At least four Policemen were killed and another sustained injuries in an attack by CPI-Maoist cadres on Bariapur Police Post in the Monghyr District.
The Maoists have also carried out acts of economic subversion targeting State, public and private properties. As many as 24 incidents of destruction of property were reported in 2008. The Maoists set ablaze tractors and construction machines required for constructing buildings, bridges and roads. On numerous occasions they blew up railway tracks, petrol Stations and Government offices. In one such incident, on November 6, 2008, over 100 armed cadres of the CPI-Maoist attacked a bridge construction site at Mallipokharbhinda in the Sheohar District and destroyed machinery worth over INR one million. The Maoists also targeted mobile phone towers, as they believe that the communication network is frequently used by security agencies and their informers. According to a December 18, 2008, report an official of the MHA stated that the Maoist had destroyed at least 43 mobile phone towers in six States till November this year – the highest number, 14 each, in Bihar and Chhattisgarh. There were no such attacks on mobile phone towers in the State in preceding years, though the phenomenon dates back to 2005 in other States. The Maoists also called for 24 hour bandhs (general strike) on at least three occasions, adversely affecting economic activity in the State.
The Maoists continued their extortion and looting drive, undermining developmental works as well as the law-and-order situation in the State. At least 12 major incidents of extortion and loot have been reported since January 1, 2008. On June 15, 2008, armed CPI-Maoist cadres raided a work site of the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY) near Barki Murhari village under Pali Police Station in the Jehanabad District. The manager of the Patna-based M/s Mother India Construction Company Private Limited said that they were working on this three-kilometre stretch of rural link road under the PMGSY at an estimated cost of INR 7.8 millions, and the Maoists were demanding 10 percent of the total estimated cost by way of ‘levy’. Separately, on July 1, 2008, the CPI-Maoist cadres blew up the house of a suspected Police informer and abducted his brother in the Gaya District. The Maoists also looted valuables worth over INR 100,000. Reports also indicate that the Maoists are cultivating poppy to fund their illegal activities. On February 19, 2008, a joint team of Police and Excise Department officials destroyed poppy crops allegedly grown by the CPI-Maoist in the Imamganj Police Station area of Gaya District. "We have destroyed the crops grown on 24 acres of land under Imamganj Police Station area," Omprakash Singh, a senior excise department official disclosed.
The SFs have made some efforts to halt the Maoists progress. On May 14, 2008, six CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an encounter with the Police at Nawada on the Bihar-Jharkhand border. Four Policemen were also injured in the encounter. Police also seized three assault rifles, one carbine, hundreds of live cartridges and eight bombs from the incident site. Earlier, on January 13, 2008, Police claimed to have killed six cadres of the CPI-Maoist in an encounter at Bangudwa Naktaia Hills in the Gaya District. The Deputy Superintendent of Police, Balram Kumar Choudhry, said that dead bodies of the slain Maoists could not be recovered from the encounter site as these were taken away by their colleagues. On October 6, 2008, the SFs foiled a plan by the CPI-Maoist to hold a training camp on the border of Rohtas and Bhabhua (Kaimur) Districts. A special operation, Operation ‘Vidhwansha’, in which six Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) companies, three Special Task Force (STF) units and Police personnel of the two Districts were engaged, resulted in the destruction of the training camp. The raiding team destroyed bunker-like structures and some other temporary structures. Police sources said that around 400 CPI-Maoist cadres had gathered in villages falling under Nauhatta and Sasaram blocks of Rohtas District and Adhaura block of Kaimur District to take part in the training programme.
In addition, the SFs recovered large cache of arms and ammunition from the Maoists from different places on as many as eight occasions, significantly affecting their arsenal. In one such incident on March 9, 2008, a joint team comprising the CRPF and the STF raided Akurauni forest area in the Gaya District and neutralised a CPI-Maoist bunker. The team seized arms and 10,000 rounds of ammunition of several regular weapons, including INSAS rifles, 100 magazines of carbines and more than 100 hand grenades. Hundreds of Police uniforms, hand grenade-making equipment, one .9mm pistol and regular rifles were also recovered from the bunker. A suspected Maoist was also arrested during the search. Similarly, on October 21, 2008, Police recovered a huge cache of arms hidden by suspected CPI-Maoist cadres in the Bhalua Forest area of Gaya District. The arms cache included 200 detonators, 126 ‘tiffin bombs’, timers and wires, was hidden inside a 250-litre water tank. On December 5, the Patna Police seized a big cache of ammunition of various calibres and arrested five persons engaged in their clandestine supply to Naxalites. Senior Superintendent of Police, Amit Kumar, said that the Police intercepted three vehicles at the Zero Mile near the Mahatma Gandhi Bridge over the Ganga and seized 500 cartridges of .315 calibre rifles, 400 of .32 pistols and 11 rounds of 12 bore shotgun, besides one 9 mm pistol with an additional magazine. The inter-State gang was involved in supplying weapons and ammunition to various Naxalite outfits, including CPI-Maoist and Tritiya Prastuti Committee.
Several top CPI-Maoist cadres were also arrested in the State in 2008. Over 93 Naxalites were arrested from a forest area in the Khaira area of Jamui District on a single day on May 21, 2008. However, the most prized catch was Rampravesh Baitha, the CPI-Maoist ‘secretary’ of the Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand Special Area Committee (SAC), who was arrested from Golghar under Gandhi Maidan Police Station in the State capital, Patna, on May 9, 2008. Baitha’s colleagues, however, managed to escape. Baitha, who hails from Kuria village in the East Champaran District, is wanted in 34 cases of extremist violence. The SFs also managed to arrest a ‘zonal commander’ of the CPI-Maoist, identified as Nandu Mahato from a hideout at Chauhuar village in the Gaya District on February 26, 2008, while another ‘zonal commander’, Raghu Chamar, was arrested from his residence at Jhari village in the Aurangabad District on May 14, 2008. On November 5, 2008, another self-styled ‘zonal committee secretary, identified as Dayanand Malakar, was arrested from Lakhanpatti village under Khodawanpur Police Station in the Begusarai District.
The SF pressure on rank and file Maoists inspired several surrenders. On March 13, 2008, for instance, 16 CPI-Maoist cadres surrendered to the Police in Muzaffarpur. The Maoists also deposited over 50 kilograms of explosives, six detonators, two landmines, seven pistols, four rifles, two guns and several rounds of ammunition. Earlier, on February 29, an ‘area commander’ of the CPI-Maoist, identified as Basudev, surrendered at Banke Bazaar Police Station in Gaya District, along with one automatic rifle, one regular rifle and a large number of cartridges.
Judicial action has also been seen in a few cases. On April 30, 2008, a fast track Court at capital Patna framed charges against senior CPI-Maoist leader Ajay Kanu and five others for their alleged involvement in the killing of a policeman in 2002 at Kandak village in Patna rural District. Kanu, who had a reward of INR 500,000 on his head and was wanted in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh as well, was arrested near the Tankuppa Police outpost in the Gaya District on February 2, 2007. On June 9, 2008, a fast track Court sentenced two CPI-Maoist cadres, Surendra Manjhi and Saryu Manjhi, to death in connection with the attack on the Chhabilapur Police Station in Nalanda District on August 11, 2005, in which two persons, including one Policeman, were killed and three others sustained injuries. Of the 13 persons named as accused in the case, seven were acquitted for want of evidence, while four others were being tried separately.
These successes, however, mask the very poor presence of Police and SFs in the State.There is a deficit of 33.06 percent between actual and sanctioned Police strength in Bihar, a dismal 60 Policemen per 1,00,000 of population, the lowest in the country, where the national average is itself a severely inadequate 125 per 100,000. The table below gives some key indices of the state of policing in Bihar in comparison to the national profile:
On December 12, 2008 Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced that the average age of constables would soon be reduced from 38 years to 30 years, improving operational efficiency and the image of the Police. To this end, he announced, 12,977 constables were soon to be recruited. The appointment of 12,000 SAP personnel and 2,000 sub-inspectors is also underway. The Chief Minister clarified, further, that "This time the State government would recruit junior commissioned officers (JCOs)." Earlier, DGP Gautam urged the CM to provide a contingency fund of INR 20 million at the disposal of the DGP so that minor expenditures could be met swiftly. "As of now, essential purchases, even though small, get delayed due to ‘file processing’," he said. Subsequently, on December 25, Gautam disclosed that the Government had sanctioned a "permanent advance" to Police Stations to meet day-to-day exigencies. While urban Police Stations would get INR 25,000, those in Maoist affected areas would get INR 15,000 while general rural Police Stations would get INR 10,000. In addition, one June 26, 2008, report, said that the State Government had decided to fortify all the 50 Police Stations falling under the LWE affected Districts of Aurangabad and Gaya in central Bihar, to help Police counter Maoists attacks.
Media reports also indicate that the Union Government has decided to deploy Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (COBRA) commandos in a phased manner over the next three years in LWE affected States, including Bihar. The new 10,000-personnel strong COBRA force will work under the CRPF. Provided with four helicopters to enable quick mobility over difficult terrain, COBRA personnel will be armed with a wide range of hi-tech assault weapons, latest communication systems and special anti-mine armoured vehicles fitted with jammers. While worst-hit Chhattisgarh is to get three battalions, Bihar will get one battalion of the new Force, which will have at least three platoons for the specific task of intelligence gathering and tracking Maoist movements and operations.
Despite the relative calm in the State, and efforts to shore up SF capabilities, Bihar remains abysmally underpoliced and the Maoist sway over its territories shows little evidence of waning. The static indices of violence reflect Maoist intent, rather than any dramatic successes on the part of State Forces, and there is reason to believe that the rebels have chosen to deliberately calibrate violence at lower levels in order to focus more clearly on tasks of political consolidation and mass mobilisation. The relative peace of the present may, in fact, auger much worse to come in the proximate future.