Jharkhand Assessment 2009
Muddled signals emanated from the political and security establishment, even as Jharkhand continued to suffer under a Maoist rampage across large parts of its territory. On October 13, 2008, the then Jharkhand Chief Minister Shibu Soren said that 'Naxalism' (the Maoist movement) was a "minor" problem that can be "solved" by addressing the problems of "humiliation, unemployment and hunger." Earlier, on August 31, 2008, Soren, had invited the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) for talks, declaring, "I want an end to the bloodbath and the Government is ready for talks. If the Maoists have any grievance against the system they should come forward for talks. The Government will talk with them even if they want to come via any agency of their choice."
In the meanwhile, Jharkhand secured the dubious distinction of being second only to Chhattisgarh among the States worst affected by Left wing Extremism (LWE), in a total of 16 afflicted States. On November 21, 2008, the State Police spokesperson, Inspector General of Police (IGP), S. N. Pradhan, told media in State capital Ranchi, "There is a long way to go before eliminating the menace and the security forces are raiding Naxal hideouts almost on a daily basis." He also rued that, unlike other Maoist-affected States, Jharkhand was grappling with six different LWE outfits, most of them breakaway factions of the CPI-Maoist. These included the Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC), Jharkhand Prastuti Committee (JPC), Jharkhand Liberation Tigers (JLT) also known as People's Liberation Front of India (PLFI), Jharkhand Jansangharsh Mukti Morcha and Sashastra People's Morcha(SPM).
Jharkhand experienced more violence through 2008 as compared to the preceding year, as also, more alarmingly, a more rapid acceleration than the current epicenter, Chhattisgarh.
Jharkhand- LWE related fatalities 2004-08
*2004 - August 2008 data: Union Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India,
**Provisional Data: (September-December 2008)- Institute for Conflict Management.
As compared to 170 killings, including 149 civilians, 13 militants (Left wing Extremists) and eight Security Force (SF) personnel in 482 incidents in 2007, Jharkhand witnessed a total of 227 killings, including 133 civilians, 57 Maoists and 37 SF personnel in 386 incidents in 2008. With a decline in the number of incidents and of civilians killed and the steep rise in casualties among SFs and the Naxalites, it is evident that the SFs are now engaging more actively against the Maoists.
The year witnessed a number of dramatic incidents of violence in the State. In one of the most daring attacks, on July 8, 2008, CPI-Maoist cadres shot dead a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) belonging to the Janata Dal-United, Ramesh Singh Munda, along with two bodyguards and a teenaged boy, at the Sub-divisional town of Bundu in Ranchi District. In another incident on April 8, 2008, nine persons were killed and two others injured when CPI-Maoist cadres fired on a vehicle and subsequently set it ablaze in the Semra Forest area under the Palkot Police Station in Gumla District. Among the victims were Bhado Singh, a member of the Shanti Sena (Peace Force), a Police-backed resistance force formed in 2002, and his family members. Further, in continuation of their campaign against citizens' resistance movements, CPI-Maoist cadres killed an activist of the Nagarik Suraksha Samity (NSS, Citizen's Protection Committee), an anti-Maoist body set up by the East Singbhum District Police in 2002-03, at Mucchrisole village in the Ghatshila Sub-division of Jamshedpur District on May 24, 2008. On December 23, 2008, the SFs came across more than a dozen posters in the Murathakra Panchayat area under Ghurabandha Police Station in East Singhbhum District, apparently put up by the CPI-Maoist, warning the NSS with dire consequences if it fostered ties with the Majhi Marwa Sangathan of Bengal.
The extremists also carried out several attacks targeting the SFs. The most fearsome of these was on August 30, 2008, when 12 Police personnel were killed as the vehicle they were travelling in was blown up in a landmine explosion near the Burudih Dam in the East Singhbhum District, by CPI-Maoist cadres. In another landmine blast triggered by suspected Maoists at Pundigiri village in the Bundu area, 50-kilometres from State capital Ranchi, on June 30, 2008, a Deputy Superintendent of Police and four constables were killed. On May 10, 2008, however, Bokaro Superintendent of Police Priya Dubey survived a Maoist bomb attack on her convoy while on a midnight operation at a village bordering Vishnugarh in the Hazaribagh District.
Maoist operations may, indeed, reflect a measure of desperation, as it appears that the SFs have been able to impede the relentless onward march of the organisation in Jharkhand over the past years. It is significant that the CPI-Maoist had vowed on March 19, 2007, to take the 'revolution' from its current 'guerrilla warfare phase' in Jharkhand to the stage of 'mobile warfare' over the succeeding months, but has since failed to carve out its projected 'liberated areas'. Indeed, several Maoist leaders in the State have been neutralised over the past year. On April 1, 2008, the SFs killed eight CPI-Maoist cadres in an encounter, including Basant Yadav, a 'sub-zonal commander' and Rajesh Paswan and Lallan Thakur, both 'area commanders', at Bandu village under Ranka Police Station in the Garhwa District. Earlier, on February 14, 2008, seven CPI-Maoist cadres, including Vikash, an accused in the killing of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha Member of Parliament Sunil Mahto, were killed in an encounter with the SFs at Phuljore in the East Singhbhum District. On November 28, 2008, Police shot dead Vijay Shankar Bhagat alias Sidhantjee, the chief of the Swantantra Jharkhand Prastuti Committee (SJPC), a left-wing extremist group, at Badri Bacho forest under Chanho Police Station in Ranchi. SJPC was reportedly involved in an earlier incident of the abduction of four railway employees at McCluskieganj.
The SFs also recovered huge caches of arms and ammunition, dispossessing the rebels of their firepower. On September 8, 2008, 70 kilograms of explosive powder, 1,994 detonators and 10,100 metres of fuse wire were recovered and four persons arrested from the Ranchi District. Further, on October 15, 2008, the SFs recovered 50 bundles of Codex wire, a lethal explosive as it cannot be spotted by a metal detector and can cause a blast even inside water, 5,450 detonators and 750 quintals gelatine from the Parasnath Hills. Further, more than 50 kilograms of ammonium nitrate and 15 kilograms of powerful explosives, along with several dozens of Police uniforms and 2,500 posters belonging to the CPI-Maoist were recovered by the SFs from Dinara in the Jhumra Hillocks, about 145 kilometres from Bokaro steel city, on December 9, 2008. SFs also recovered 80 landmines planted on a 1.5-2 kilometre stretch of road in the forest area between DTPS and Nawadih Police Stations in Bokaro during a search operation on April 1, 2008. The Director General of Police V.D. Ram said the recovery of landmines was the biggest ever in Jharkhand.
Another body blow to the Naxalites was the arrest of at least 140 cadres of the different groups. The most prominent among these was the CPI-Maoist 'area commander', Tarkeshwar Kanhar, who was arrested by the Police during a search operation at his residence in Ghodbanda village of Hussainabad in the Palamu District on November 21, 2008. He was one of the founder members of the erstwhile Peoples' War Group (which merged with the Maoist Communist Centre in September 2004 to form the CPI-Maoist). Earlier, on November 19, 2008, the SFs raided the Chouparan area on the Jharkhand-Bihar border and arrested 16 extremists who owed allegiance to the SPM, a breakaway faction of the CPI-Maoist formed some time in 2006. Police also claimed to have arrested 13 extremists, including a top leader, in separate operations on October 25 and 26, 2008.
Despite these setbacks, the Maoists continued their efforts to establish their authority by imposing diktats on civilians through leaflets and pamphlets. In one such incident on November 15, 2008, CPI-Maoist cadres reportedly issued a set of instructions to the villagers of Nawadih block in Bokaro District through pamphlets and posters asking them to return the cycles, torches and other sports materials given to them by the District Superintendent of Police, Priya Dubey.
According to the SATP Database, there were at least 22 incidents in the year in which the Naxalites targeted the State's economy, as they struck against railway property and personnel on at least five occasions, set ablaze trucks and opened fire at several buses and trucks, blew up petrol pumps, attacked construction companies and their work sites and destroyed mobile phone towers. More significantly, the Naxalites called for state-wide bandhs (general shut downs) on at least nine occasions, bringing the State to a virtual standstill.
The Naxalites also continued their campaigns of loot and extortion. In a daring operation on May 21, 2008, suspected Maoists looted a currency van of the ICICI bank carrying INR 50 million and one kilogram of gold near the Tamar area of the capital, Ranchi. Several Maoists were also arrested while engaged in intimidation and extortion On June 26, 2008, for instance, the Jharkhand Police arrested a Maoist from the Manatu Block of Palamau District with INR 170,000 allegedly extorted from a contractor. Poppy cultivation also provided a continuing source of income to the Maoists. Vinod Kumar, Station House Officer in Ghaghra-Gumla Police Station noted that, "of late, cases of opium farming have come from the militancy-hit areas. It cannot be denied that it is the rebels who benefit from opium plantations." On March 5, 2008, Police had destroyed large amounts of poppy cultivation allegedly maintained by the CPI-Maoist in the Ghaghra area of Gumla District.
In a disturbing development, the Jharkhand Police claimed, on September 2, that CPI-Maoist cadres were being trained in guerrilla and jungle warfare by former Army personnel. Following the arrest of hardcore Maoist 'sub-zonal commander' Shankar Bhuiyan alias Sanjay Ram, at Latehar on August 28, 2008, Police recovered a Maoist training manual. The 200-page book, divided into two sections, contained minute details of planning and assault strategy in different terrains. Police spokesperson Pradhan noted, "After going through the books and documents it can be said with certainty that experts having years of experience in military warfare are training the rebel cadre. Because no one can make such a meticulous training programme (sic)."
Meanwhile, on November 21, 2008, the IGP Pradhan, boasted,
Saying that the Police had spent 98 per cent of INR 350 crore allocated for modernisation in 2006-07, Pradhan disclosed that efforts were on to purchase more equipment to aid the SFs in their drive against the extremists: "We have migrated from .303 rifles to automatic or semi-automatic weapons, the security forces have been given night-vision binoculars, bullet-proof jackets, bullet-proof vehicles and mine-protected vehicles." Pradhan also disclosed that a 'bike-platoon' had been set up to enable personnel to move on two-wheelers on certain routes which were not motorable.
The progressive strengthening of the Police Force may be a significant factor behind Police successes, but there remained a deficit of 20.82 percent between actual and sanctioned Police strength in Jharkhand. The State has a ratio of 136 Policemen per 100,000 of population, higher than the national average, but well below any rational assessment of the requirement.
There are variations when one compares the state of policing in Jharkhand with that of the national profile. At the level of Superintendent of Police (SP) Jharkhand has a deficit of 51.17 percent, compared to the vacancy of 20.6 percent at the national level. Jharkhand with 17.89 percent vacancy at the Inspector level, however, fares better than the national vacancy rate of 20.66 percent. However, at the level of personnel below the Assistant Sub-Inspector, Jharkhand has a vacancy of 20.92 percent, compared to the country-wide vacancy of 13.2 percent.
On January 31, 2009, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram indicated that 145 Police Stations out of a total of 351 in the State were Naxalite affected and over 25 blocks did not have Police Stations, adding further, "There is a need to fill the 1,500 vacancies existing in the State Special Branch. The Special Branch of the State Government will now interact with the Intelligence Bureau (IB) officials of Ranchi to share intelligence." He made a further assurance that he would talk to the West Bengal Government for joint inter-State operations to curb ultra-Left extremism. "West Bengal does not agree with the hot pursuit policy. So it conducts its operation in its territory and Jharkhand conducts operations in its own area, which cannot be called a joint operation. But I have taken up the matter and will speak to the West Bengal Government," the Minister said. Earlier, on February 12, 2008, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) decided to despatch an additional five companies of para-military forces (about 600 personnel) to Jharkhand to tackle the Maoist violence.
Meanwhile, the State's drive against Naxalites, who have their presence in all but one of the 24 Districts of the State, got a boost as the MHA decided, on February 5, 2009, to sanction a one-time express grant of INR 200 million to Jharkhand to beef up its intelligence network to deal with Maoist extremism in and around the State. Earlier, on September 28, 2008, media reports indicated that the Jharkhand Police had drawn up a list of 60 hardcore Maoist extremists in the ranks of 'zonal commander', 'sub zonal commander', 'area commander' and others, against whom an overall cash reward of INR 15 million was to be announced. The list has been sent to the State Home Department for clearance. An unidentified source in the State Police Department disclosed that "the cash reward varies between INR 150,000 to INR 500,000 depending on the rank of the Maoist rebel."
The SFs now appear to have committed themselves in the fight against the Maoists, with some visible successes. In the past, their efforts have been undermined by political gimmickry, though with the State under President's rule since January 19, 2009, following the defeat of Shibu Soren in the Tamar by-elections, there has been some hiatus in partisan political mischief. This is, of course, only a temporary phase and it is only a question of time before the State's politicians resume centre-stage. It remains to be seen whether the current momentum of counter-insurgency measures will survive the eventual return of political opportunism.