Orissa Assessment 2009
Orissa is gradually transforming into a Maoist stronghold. Exploiting the State Government's lackadaisical response to the growth of Left Wing Extremism (LWE), the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) has not only carried out a number of high profile attacks in the State, but has established a methodical process of consolidation.
Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) data, available till August 31, 2008, reveals a sharp rise in the LWE-related incidents in Orissa since 2004.
Insurgency related fatalities in Orissa: 2004-08
The Institute for Conflict Management database, however, indicates that, while the total number of Maoist-related incidents in Orissa increased to 129 in 2008 from 67 in 2007, fatalities suffered by Security Force (SF) personnel rose sharply to 76, from just two in 2007. Out of 30 Districts in the State, Maoist activity was reported from at least 22. Six south-western Districts - Malkangiri, Koraput, Raygada, Kandhamal, Nayagarh and Gajapati - accounted for almost 60 percent of all incidents in 2008.
It can safely be assumed that the phase of Maoist consolidation in Orissa has reached an advanced stage. While in 2007 and previous years, Maoists quietly went about with the tasks of political mobilization and expansion of their area of operation, in 2008 the Maoist 'takeover' of several areas in south-western Orissa had evidently been completed. This has allowed the extremists a corridor of easy transit between Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The movement of armed Maoists was noticed along the Ganjam-Kandhamal border in south-east Orissa. The dense jungle and hilly terrain of this region proved conducive to Maoist movement. As a result, it was hardly surprising that, when pressure mounted on Maoists in Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, they found it convenient to step up activities in Orissa.
Against this backdrop, state agencies have sought to project Maoist subversion in Orissa as a spillover of violence from its neighbouring States. But reports of Maoist incidents from Districts like Jagatsinghpur, Jajpur, Khurda, Angul, Dhenkanal, all along the eastern board of the State and far from borders with States like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, as well as the arrest of a substantial number of Maoists local to Orissa, points at a steady strengthening of the Maoists in this State.
The augmentation of Maoist capacities in Orissa was most dramatically manifested in four high profile Maoist attacks in 2008, three of which targeted SF personnel.
The first of these was the near simultaneous raids on the District Armoury and the Police Training College at the District Headquarters town of Nayagarh, at the Mahipur Police Outpost, 11 kilometers away, at the Nuagaon Police Station, 20 kilometers away, and at the Dasapalla Police Station at least 40 kilometers away from Nayagarh town, on February 15, 2008. Nayagarh itself is barely 80 kilometers west of the State capital Bhubaneswar, lying in Orissa's east. In the raids which lasted over five hours, 14 Police personnel and two civilians were killed. Though Police claimed to have killed three Maoists, not a single dead body was recovered. At least 1,100 arms, including rifles, light machine guns, single loaded rifles, AK-47s and pistols, were looted. While around 650 arms and 100,000 rounds of ammunition were taken away from the PTS Arms Depot, 400 arms and 100,000 bullets were looted from the District Armoury. Four guns were also removed from each of the three Police Stations. The combing operation that followed recovered around 70 percent of the weapons, most of the primitive .303 rifles, which had simply been abandoned by the Maoists as being of little utility, and in damaged condition.
The second high profile attack occurred on June 29 when 38 security force (SF) personnel, including 36 belonging to the elite anti-Maoist Greyhounds from Andhra Pradesh, were killed in the Chitrakonda reservoir of Malkangiri District, close to the Andhra Pradesh border. CPI-Maoist cadres atop hills sprayed bullets on the 68-member Andhra Pradesh-Orissa Police party, which was returning after conducting combing operations, after getting information that the Maoists were holding a conclave there. Heavy fire from sophisticated weapons sunk the motorised boat in the reservoir, drowning most of the SF personnel. Some who swam ashore were reportedly shot by the Maoists.
The third major incident occurred on July 16, when CPI-Maoist cadres killed 17 personnel of the Special Operations Group (SOG) of the Orissa Police in a landmine blast, once again in the Malkangiri District. The blast occurred in the MV-126 area when an anti-landmine van carrying the Police team was returning to the District headquarters town of Malkangiri. The personnel had gone to MPV-41 village, where a contractor's house was attacked by Maoists in the night of July 15. A majority of the SOG personnel were in the anti-landmine vehicle and the rest were on motorcycles. Immediately after the blast, Maoists hiding in the nearby forest opened fire on the Policemen.
The fourth major attack was on August 23 when five persons including Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Lakshmanananda and four disciples, including a woman, were killed in an attack by CPI-Maoist cadres on an ashram at Jalespata in the Kandhamal District. The armed extremists opened fire and hurled bombs after entering the ashram (hermitage) run by Swami Lakshmanananda at 8.30 pm during a religious celebration.
Despite the enormity of the first three incidents, it was the fourth that added a new dimension to Maoist violence. In this case, the target was a noted religious figure, and after the incident, simmering conflict between Christians and the Hindu right wing Sangh Parivar, on the one hand, and between Scheduled Castes (mostly Christians) and Scheduled Tribes (mostly Hindus), broke out into month long violent riots. Maoists appeared to have exploited a pre-existing divide among the population, with its strong socio-economic overtones. There were reports that Maoists gave arms and explosives training to some 50 Scheduled Caste Christians for use in the ensuing communal riots that followed the incident. Subsequently, the Maoists also threatened to kill an RSS activist - and eventually carried out the threat. Though it is not clear who killed the RSS activist, the Maoists were able to generate fear among the masses in the area. During the protracted rioting, the state remained a mute witness, while the Maoists gained strength in many areas of the District where they had little previous presence.
The state response to the Maoist violence has repeatedly exposed an abject lack of understanding of the Maoist strategy of political and military consolidation. The absence or infrequency of violent incidents has been interpreted - at the highest quarters - as an absence of threat. Thus, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik declared, after the Nayagarh incident, "The Naxal violence profile in the State remains much less compared to the neighbouring Naxal-affected States like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar."
The result of such assessments is that there has been little emphasis on building State Police capacities, and very poor levels of preparedness. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for 2007 indicates that the actual strength of the Civil Police, including District Armed Police, stood at 27,408 against a sanctioned strength of 31,367 - a deficit of 12 per cent. At the Director General (DG)/Additional DG/ / Inspector General (IG)/ Deputy IG level, the actual strength of officers is 25 against the sanctioned strength of 33 (24.24 per cent shortage). At Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP)/ Superintendent of Police (SP)/Additional SP/ Deputy SP level, the actual strength is 257 against the sanctioned strength of 313 (deficit: 17.9 per cent). At the Inspector, Sub-Inspector (SI) & Assistant SI level the actual strength is 4,345 against the sanctioned strength of 6315 (deficit: 31.2 per cent). At the level of personnel below the ASI rank, the actual strength is 22,781 against the sanctioned strength of 24,706 (deficit: 7.8 per cent).
However, data for the Armed Police component - where capacities are most urgently needed - is even more distressing. In the Armed Police, the actual strength is 10,864 against the sanctioned strength of 15,828 (deficit: 31.4 per cent). At SSP/SP/Addl. SP/ASP/DySP level the actual strength is 73 against the sanctioned strength of 184 (deficit: 60.33 per cent). At Inspector, SI & ASI level the actual strength is 449 against the sanctioned strength of 911 (deficit: 50.7 per cent). At the level of personnel below the rank of ASI, the actual strength is 10,342 against the sanctioned strength of 14,723 (deficit: 29.8 per cent). The Police population ratio (policemen per 100,000 population) in the State is dismal 97 against the extremely poor national average of 125. The Police density (Policemen per 100 square kilometer area) is, again, a paltry 24.6 compared to the national average of 45. Crucially, the distribution of Force is also extremely lopsided, with the highest deficits persisting in areas worst affected by Maoist violence. Praveen Swami notes that Malkangiri, one of the worst affected Districts in the State, for instance, should have 49 sub-inspectors, but only 17 were in place. Swami notes, further,
On ground, the Malkangiri police's offensive counter-insurgency capabilities are pathetic. They have five SOG (Special Operations Group) sections, each with 20 personnel, backed by six companies of ill-trained local police - a total of 700 men to operate in 5,791 square km of some of the most dense, mountainous tropical forests in India. Backing them are four companies of the Central Reserve Police Force - well under 500 men. Dantewada, across the border in Chhattisgarh, is twice as large as Malkangiri but has eight times as many CRPF personnel.
Incidentally, all major Maoist attacks have been followed by promises of strengthening the Police Force. After the February 15 Nayagarh attack, Chief Minister Patnaik, who is also in charge of the Home Department, announced that all Police vacancies would be filled expeditiously within the shortest possible time and all the Police Stations and armouries would be fortified. As per these plans, an additional 1,300 posts of constables and sepoys would be created in the Orissa State Armed Police (Special Security) Battalions, to guard the newly fortified Police Stations. Further, the strength of the SOG of the State Police was to be increased by sanctioning 1,000 additional posts. Five India Reserve Battalions (IRBs) were also to be created after obtaining sanction from the Centre, in addition to three already sanctioned.
Similarly, after the July 16 landmine blast incident, which killed 17 SOG personnel, the Orissa Government decided to recruit 2,000 Special Police Force personnel to combat the Maoist insurgency. The Government further decided to appoint 1,500 retired defence personnel in various posts that were lying vacant. It was also decided that more than 5,000 Constables and other staff would be appointed under a special recruitment drives.
Further, on October 25, the Orissa Government initiated steps to start a scheme to deploy 2,000 armed tribal youth as Special Police Officers (SPOs) in five Maoist-infested Districts to fight the extremists. An Orissa Home Department resolution (No 47958 dated October 25, 2008) indicates that tribal men and women in the age group of 18-25 years, from the Maoist-infested Malkangiri, Koraput, Gajapati, Rayagada and Kandhamal Districts, would be appointed on a contractual basis for the first three years. With a minimal educational requirement of having passed the VIIIth Standard, they were to undergo training in arms and ammunition like regular Policeman. As SPOs, they would be paid INR 4,000 per month in the first two years and INR 4,500 in the third year, after which they might be absorbed as sepoys or constables against regular Police vacancies. Referring to the manifestly counter-productive anti-Maoist civilian vigilante movement in Chhattisgarh, a senior Home Department official said, "It's just like Salwa Judum. They will be doing the same things that the SPOs in Chhattisgarh are doing. The aim is to let the tribals defend themselves against the onslaught of Maoists."
According to the Chief Minister's disclosures in the State Assembly on December 4, 2008, 2100 tribal youths were being appointed as SPOs in the Maoist-affected Districts by relaxing educational and physical standards. The State Government has appointed an ex-Army officer of Brigadier rank as the training advisor for the State Police in addition to as many as 124 ex-servicemen. Further, the fortification of 142 Police Stations and 41 armouries had already started. After the Nayagarh incident, a decision had also been taken to fortify 115 urban and 305 rural Police Stations in phases. Further the Government had also created 878 additional posts for the SOG, a force raised for anti-Maoist operations. Besides, the decision had also been taken to station one Commando Battalions for Resolute Action (COBRA) Battalion of the para-military Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in the Koraput District for anti-Maoist operations. The recruited constables of the Second and Third India Reserve Battalion (IRB) had also been sent to six Border Security Force (BSF) training units at Malkangiri and Rourkela. Training for fresh batch of newly recruited personnel was also slated to commence 'soon' in the SOG training institute at Chandaka. A recruitment drive has also been launched to fill up 2,075 posts of constables in the civil Police and 541 sepoys in the Orissa State Armed Police (OSAP) battalion. The Orissa Staff Selection Commission had been moved for 'immediate recruitment' of 319 sub-inspectors, 35 sergeants and 160 deputy subedars, which constitute the leadership positions at the cutting age level of the Police Force.
It remains to be seen how rapidly these various schemes and declarations of intent are actually translated into capacities on the ground. The experience of the past has been extraordinarily discouraging. Swami notes,
Last year (2007), Orissa hired 6,000 cadets to fill the gap. It turned out, though, that its Police Training Centre could process just 300 students at a time. Training was slashed from 12 months to six months - at which rate it would have taken a decade to complete the process - and meanwhile, untrained personnel were assigned to Police Stations. Earlier this year, the recruitments themselves were quashed, after credible allegations of corruption surfaced.
Evidently, Orissa's past record of keeping up with promises made after high-profile attacks holds little hope for this beleaguered State. Unless there is a sea-change in the orientation of the State's political and Police leadership, the creeping Maoist consolidation promises to continue unchallenged.