Odisha Assessment 2011
On February 3, 2011, Odisha Chief Minister (CM) Naveen Patnaik declared, "The Police have done well, not only in maintaining law and order but also in containing the Left Wing Extremist [LWE] problem that has posed a threat to the internal security of the country. There has been a distinct improvement in the situation with a decline in quantum of Left Wing Extremist violence in 2010 in comparison to 2009." He added, further, "During the last three months alone, the SFs have conducted as many as 214 special operations and have achieved considerable success. As many as 91 Maoists have been arrested, 24 Maoists have died in Police action and 54 weapons have been recovered. I understand that the coordination between State Police and central Forces deployed in the State has improved, which will further strengthen anti-Naxalite operations."
The statement came in the wake of Security Forces’ (SFs) operation in which nine Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres, including four women cadres, were killed in Rayagada District during the early hours of January 9, 2011.
The CM’s optimism, however, may be somewhat premature, even as the numbers it may be based on are suspect. Open source data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, indicates that Odisha recorded a total of 108 fatalities – including 62 civilians, 25 LWE and 21 SF personnel in – 44 incidents of killing in 2010, as against 81 fatalities – 36 civilians, 32 SF personnel and 13 LWEs – in 37 incidents of killing in 2009. Significantly, after registering a 38.63 per cent decline in overall fatalities in 2009 as compared to 2008, fatalities surged again, by 33.33 per cent in 2010, as against the preceding year.
Fatalities in Left Wing Extremism: 2005-2011*
Source: SATP,* Data till February 6, 2011
On hindsight, the CM’s observations appear to be hasty. Nevertheless, there are tentative signs of a more proactive and effective state response over the past months, suggesting a measure of improved confidence within Odisha’s fighting forces. SF fatalities in the State have declined continuously since their peak at 76 in 2008, to 32 in 2009 and 21 in 2010, even as Maoist fatalities registered a significant increase in 2010. The SF:Maoist fatality ratio has, consequently, gone from 2.37:1 in 2008, to 2.46:1 in 2009, down to 1:1.19 in 2010. This is, of course, far from acceptable, but reflects a dramatic improvement over the last two years.
Some of the prominent clashes between the SFs and the Maoists in 2010 included:
December 24: Three CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in an encounter with the anti-Maoist Special Operations Group (SOG) in Bijayghati at Turli hillock in Narayanpatna area in Koraput District.
December 18: Two CPI-Maoist cadres and a SOG trooper were killed and another constable sustained a bullet injury, in an encounter between the Maoists and SFs at Chirubeda in Saranda forest under Bisra Police Station area in Sundargarh District.
November 4: Four CPI-Maoist cadres were killed in a gun battle with the Police in a forested area near Karlakuta village of Malkangiri District.
May 8: The SFs killed at least 10 CPI-Maoist cadres in the Gumandi forest near Podapodar village under Narayanpatna Police Station area in Koraput District.
April 4: 11 personnel of the SOG were killed and eight others were seriously injured when CPI-Maoist cadres triggered a landmine blast targeting a mini bus carrying the SOG personnel at Tanginiguda on the Govindpalli ghat road in Koraput District.
SFs were also successful in arresting 170 Maoists in 2010, as against 148 in 2009. On January 14, 2010, the SFs arrested Saswati Das alias Mili Panda, wife of CPI-Maoist ‘State Committee Secretary’ Sabyasachi Panda, on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. Another top Maoist, Padma alias Sirisa alias Nirmala (40), wife of the CPI-Maoist’ Central Committee Member’ Ramakrishna alias RK, was arrested, along with two other woman cadres, from Dudhari in the Semiliguda Block (administrative division) of Koraput District on November 13, 2010. On July 7, 2010, the SFs arrested Manik Mahato and Bijay Mahato of Mudabani village under Jhargram Police Station in West Midnapore District in West Bengal, from an isolated hut inside a forest, about 15 kilometers from Baripada in Mayurbhanj District. Police described Manik as the kingpin of the Jnaneswari train derailment case [May 28, 2010].
The arrest of Gananath Patra, ‘advisor’ of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha-Naryanpatna (CMAS- Narayanpatna), a Maoist front organisation, by the Police from Vivekananda Marg in Bhubaneswar on January 27, 2010, also exerted significant pressure on this group, forcing CMAS leaders and cadre to lie low. The SFs later arrested other top CMAS leaders, including Ramesh Nachika, Santosh Nachika, Rupari Sirika and Ahari Kendruka on June 23, 2010. Kendruka, a key leader with links to underground leader Nachika Linga, confirmed the connections between the Maoists and CMAS, during interrogation. Meanwhile, in an effort to regroup, the CMAS cadres once again ploughed the lands that they had forcibly taken over from non-tribals a year ago. A large number of CMAS cadres ploughed hundreds of acres of land, which was lying unused, on the outskirts of Narayanpatna and planted red flags. In another show of strength, CMAS took out a large protest rally of an estimated 5,000 cadres at Narayanpatna on November 23, 2010. It was the first major demonstration by the organisation in a year.
43 Maoists surrendered in 2010, as against just eight in 2009.
Unfortunately, relative SF successes against the Maoists came at the price of rising civilian fatalities. The Maoists killed as many as 62 civilians, 72.22 per cent more than the number killed (36) in 2009. SF pressures on the Maoists are clearly provoking the latter to inflict a wider terror on civilian populations to retain their dominance. Some of the major attacks targeting civilians in 2010 included:
December 6: CPI-Maoist cadres hacked three villagers to death at Topadihi near Rourkela under K Balang Police Station in Sundargarh District, suspecting them to be Police informer.
November 27: Five persons, including two women and a three-year-old child, were killed when CPI-Maoist cadres blew up an ambulance by triggering a landmine blast near Dukulpadu in Brahmanigaon in Kandhamal District. This was the first time that Maoists had attacked an ambulance in the State.
January 23: Four civilians, including two women, were killed in a landmine blast triggered by CPI-Maoist cadres in the Narayanpatna Block in Koraput District.
Further, five civilians and nine SF personnel were killed in 33 incidents of bomb explosions that were recorded in 2010, as against 23 incidents in 2009, five in 2008, 13 in 2007, and two each in 2006 and 2005.
Despite their losses, evidence suggests a continued Maoist consolidation, as the rebels made their presence felt in more than half of Odisha's 30Districts. At least one incident of violence was reported from 18 Districts in the State, while fatalities were recorded in 12 Districts. Koraput witnessed the highest fatalities (43), followed by Malkangiri and Sundargarh (17 each), Gajapati and Kandhamal (6 each), Nabarangpur and Rayagada (5 each), Keonjhar (3), Mayurbhanj and Bargarh (2 each), Ganjam and Nuapada (1 each). Significantly, in 2009, while at least one incident was reported from 12 Districts, fatalities were registered in nine. In 2009, Koraput accounted for the largest number of fatalities (35), followed by Malkangiri (10), Rayagada (6) Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj (4 each), while the remaining fatalities were recorded in four other Districts. Maoist patterns and areas of operation are seen to shift very often.
Worryingly, the number of swarming attack incidents (more than 50 cadres) involving the Maoist People’s Militia rose to 19 in 2010, as against 12 in 2009. Unconfirmed reports also indicate that the Maoists have recruited an increasing number of tribal youth.
In an effort to cut away the Maoist recruitment base, however, the Indian Army has launched a recruitment drive in the State.
In the State Government’s efforts to counter the menace, a state-level Unified Command (UC) was established to deal with the LWE on August 5. The decision to set up the UC had been taken on July 14, 2010. Further, on August 31, 2010, the State decided to deploy an additional three battalions of Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs) for anti-Maoist operations, to augment the eight battalions already deployed. Five battalions of Border Security Force (BSF) personnel and four battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were deployed in the Maoist affected areas, while the State Government decided to station two battalions of the CRPF in North Odisha. Four helicopters have also been engaged for anti-Naxalite operations. On January 10, 2010, State Home Secretary U.N. Behera claimed that the State could now successfully prevent CPI-Maoist attacks as it had "adequate force comprising five battalions of BSF and seven battalions of CRPF besides its elite anti-Maoist SOG". About 50 units of SOG were engaged in anti-Maoist operations in the State, with each such unit comprising 30 members.
The Home Secretary’s assessment, however, appears, again, to be unduly optimistic. 11 battalions of CPMFs yield barely 4,400 personnel on the ground, while the SOG units could provide another 1,500. A combined strength of under 6,000 personnel is unlikely to dominate a State the size of Odisha, with a territorial expanse of 155,707 square kilometres, a population of over 36.7 million, and over half its Districts afflicted by the Maoist menace.
Worse, general State Police capacities remain poor, with a chronic deficiency of manpower and technical capacities. State Director General of Police (DGP) Manmohan Praharaj thus stated, on October 11, 2010, "We are handicapped by the manpower shortages in the Department. The infrastructure needs much improvement. We require training institutes for entry level personnel. We have a sanction for 2,000 constables for Special Operation Group [SOG] but we could not fill up the vacancies because of a fall at the entry level. Whereas there are 142 Policemen per one lakh population on an average across the country, Odisha has only 102 Policemen per one lakh population." The State Police currently has over 5,000 vacancies, while another 5,000 recruits await training.
On October 11, 2010, CM Naveen Patnaik asked the State Home Department to fill up all vacant posts in the Police Department. Again, reiterating that his Government was committed to Police modernisation, the Chief Minister, on February 3, 2011, emphasised the upgradation of professional skills in the Police Force to take on the emerging challenges.
Unfortunately, various measures for Police modernisation and capacity augmentation have met with resistance, or have come up against procedural obstacles. Most prominently, a long-pending proposal to restore direct recruitment at the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police has met with opposition from the Odisha Police Association, who have threatened a State-wide agitation against the proposal. There has been no direct recruitment through the State Public Service Commission at this rank since 1976, resulting in the virtual disappearance of an entire layer of leadership from the Odisha Police.
The Planning Commission has also criticised the ‘bureaucratization’ of the Integrated Action Plan (IAP) to contain the Maoists influence more effectively. Of 60 Maoist-hit Districts chosen across India for the IAP, 15 are in Odisha: Malkangiri, Koraput, Nabarangpur, Rayagada, Gajapati, Nuapada, Kalahandi, Bolangir, Sonepur, Kandhamal, Sundargarh, Keonjhar, Mayurbhanj, Deogarh and Sambalpur. A special policy was also formulated by the State Government on January 8, 2010, to encourage its non-Police employees, including doctors, engineers, and teachers, to work in Maoist-affected Districts, extending special incentives, proper accommodation facilities and insurance cover for Government employees working in these areas. The impact of this policy, however, remains minimal.
There are some indications of a crystallization of political will to fight the Maoists with determination. CM Patnaik, appears to have shed his past ambivalence on this count, and has made it clear that anti-Maoist operations would be sustained, unless the rebels gave up violence. It will, however, require sustained commitment and effort to neutralize the enormous capacities for disruptive dominance that the Maoists have already established in Odisha, as well as the State’s locational disadvantage in the very heart of the country’s Maoist-affected belt.