Odisha Assessment 2014
On February 5, 2014, the body of a tribal Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) activist, was found with the throat slit open in Singavaram jungle located near Sarkubandha village of Ralegada panchayat (village level local self Government institution) under Paparmetla Police Station in the cut-off Balimela Reservoir area in Malkangiri District. The activist had been involved in projects under the Odisha Tribal Empowerment and Livelihood Program (OTELP) as well as in sectors related to health and sanitation. The victim, identified as Sadanand Hantal (25), was a resident of Sarkubandha village. Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres had abducted Hantal and three other activists in the night of February 2, but released the other three.
The Maoists have killed at least eight civilians in the State since the beginning of 2014, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), with all eight fatalities recorded in the Koraput and Malkangiri Districts – four in each. While it is much to early to see this as establishing a trend, if civilian killings continue at anything near the current rate, they would far outstrip the averages for earlier years. According to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), 28, 31 and 39 civilians were killed, through 2013, 2012, and 2011, respectively, in Left Wing Extremism (LWE) related violence in Odisha.
Fatalities in Left Wing Extremism (LWE) in Odisha: 2011-2014*
Year 2013 also saw a halving of Security Force (SF) fatalities, and more than a doubling of rebel fatalities, as against the preceding year.
Another significant aspect is the geographical spread of the Maoist violence. In 2013, killings perpetrated by Maoists were confined to just three Districts – Koraput, Malkangiri and Nuapada. Forty-two extremists were killed in Koraput and Malkangiri District, though Maoist fatalities were also recorded in Balangir (2), Bargarh (1), Gajapati (1), and Rayagada (4); no civilian or SF fatalities were recorded in these four Districts.
Other parameters of LWE/CPI-Maoist violence in Odisha in 2012-13 also confirm to the positive trends reflected in the fatality figures.
Other Parameters of LWE/CPI-Maoist Violence in Odisha: 2011-2013
Considerable declines are visible on most indicators. Crucially, while the encounters with the Police increased from 15 to 25 between 2012 and 2013, attacks on the Police (including landmines) decreased from 19 to just 3. Similarly, the number of arms training camps held decreased from 8 to 2. The number of jan adalats (people’s courts/kangaroo courts) held also dropped significantly, from nine to three. Other patterns of violence and disruption, including attacks, intimidation, abduction and disruptive activities, also remained muted. In 2013, four incidents of abduction attributed to the CPI-Maoist were recorded, with 13 persons abducted. The Sabyasachi Panda-led Odisha Maobadi Party (OMP), abducted another two persons [these may be underestimates, as a number of cases of abduction go unreported]. Bandh (shut down strike) calls were given on seven occasions through 2013. CPI-Maoist cadres also put up posters in the Paikmal area of Bargarh District warning that they would 'prosecute' former Minister and Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA), Padampur, Bijay Singh Bariha and Bargarh District Collector Bhabagrahi Mishra in 'praja courts' (Peoples' Court) for their 'corrupt practices'.
An analysis of Maoist activities - both underground and 'over-ground' - indicates that three Districts of Odisha – Koraput, Malkangiri and Nuapada – remain highly affected; five Districts – Balangir, Bargarh, Nabarangpur, Kandhamal and Rayagada – remain moderately affected; and seven Districts – Ganjam, Sundergarh, Boudh, Gajapati, Mayurbhanj, Sonepur and Kalahandi – remain marginally affected.
The state also made crucial inroads into erstwhile Maoist strongholds in Malkangiri and Koraput Districts. On September 14, 2013, for instance, the Odisha Police killed at least 13 CPI-Maoist cadres, including a woman, in an encounter with the State Police Special Operations Group (SOG) and District Volunteer Force (DVF, comprising mostly of ex-service men) near Silakota village under the Podia Block of Malkangiri District. All 13 bodies were recovered from the site of the encounter. A cache of arms and ammunition including two claymore mines, several Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), AK 47s, country-made pistols and magazines, were recovered, and one person was arrested on suspicion of being a Maoist. The operation was led by Malkangiri Superintendent of Police (SP) Akhileswar Singh.
Further, the Maoists’ control over the Narayanpatna-based Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangha (CMAS), a front organisation of the outfit in Koraput District, has fragmented over the past year. CMAS used to provide logistic and militia support, and served as an excellent cover for Maoist subversion. Some 150 CMAS supporters have been charged in different cases, including LWE violence, and its president, Nachika Linga, had been declared ‘most wanted’ by the State. Off late, however, many CMAS-Narayanpatna supporters have given their pledge to the Police that they would no longer support the Maoists. Between January and May 2013, at least 1,692 CMAS supporters surrendered before the Police. Odisha Police sources claim that the actual figure is more than 2,400. The Maoists have also acknowledged this reversal, noting, in their '4th CC Resolution', “The leader of the Narayanpatna peasant struggle Nachika Linga is backing away from the movement with rightist politics”. Further, the surrender of Maoist cadres (other than CMAS supporters) increased, from 34 in 2012 to 101 in 2013. A significant proportion of these surrenders were from the Malkangiri District, according to SATP.
The rapid decline in Maoists’ fortunes in Odisha followed the defection of Sabyasachi Panda, who held the post of Odisha State Committee Secretary in the party organisation. Panda left the Party and set up his own OMP in August 2012. The Maoist '4th CC Resolution' acknowledges, “Due to betrayal of Panda and enemy onslaught the Odisha movement weekend a lot”.
Even as the Maoists suffered heavily in Odisha, they engaged in some ‘morale building operations’. On August 27, 2013, Maoist cadres trigged a landmine blast on the busy National Highway 26, at a culvert between Sakirai and Kauguntha villages near Ralegada in the Sunki Ghat area, under the Pottangi Police Station in Koraput District, killing four Border Security Force (BSF) personnel and injuring another three. The BSF personnel were moving to Visakhapatnam in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, in a convoy of three vehicles. The timing of the attack and the ability to single out the BSF vehicles on a busy national highway were astonishing in their precision.
Earlier, motor boat services to the 150-odd villages of the Kudumulu Gumma Block – separated from the rest of the Block by the Balimela Reservoir – remained suspended for 10 days between August 21 and 31, due to a Maoist threat, creating a crisis situation in the area, as other routes of transport are too circuitous and difficult to be undertaken by villagers.
The Maoists also forced 15 sarpanches (head of Panchayats), 14 samiti members (block level local-self government institution representatives) , 31 ward members and three Zilla Parishad members (district level local-self government institution representatives) under the Kalimela panchayat samiti to resign. This was an attempt by the Maoists to recover lost ground by raising the issue of extension of the Potteru Irrigation canal work from Karkatpalli to Manyamkonda in Malkangiri District, which the State Government had promised during the negotiated release of the abducted then-District Collector R. Vineel Krishna.
These 'successes' notwithstanding, things have not gone the way the Maoists would have wished. In addition to the September 14 incident in which 13 Maoists were killed, the Secretary of the Malkangiri Divisional Committee of the CPI-Maoist, Madhav alias Golla Ramullu, was killed in an encounter with SFs in the Malkangiri District on August 23, 2013. He was allegedly involved in over 50 murder cases and carried a cash reward of INR 300,000 on his head in Andhra Pradesh. Moreover, one ‘deputy commander’ and three ‘commanders’ were arrested while three ‘area commanders’ and two ‘commanders’ surrendered in the State through 2013. The important catch among these was the CPI-Maoist ‘militia commander’ Ghasi Badanayak, in Malkangiri District.
Meanwhile, the Sabyasachi Panda-led OMP weakened further in 2013. Not only was OMP 'military head' Pradip Majhi alias Govind (27) killed in an encounter in Gajapati District, one of Panda’s close aides, Sishu Mallick, surrendered, and three of his cadres were arrested. According to Ganjam Superintendent of Police (SP) Ashis Kumar Singh, OMP has now less than 10 members and Panda is unable to enrol any new recruits to his party. This assessment was made by the District Police based on the revelations made by two OMP cadres arrested on February 15, 2014, after an exchange of fire with the SFs, and on further proof found from the encounter site inside the Merikote Reserve Forest near Salimagochha under Badagada Police Station limits in Ganjam District.
To complement SF efforts, both the Central and State Governments have introduced a number of developmental measures in the Maoist-affected areas of Odisha, including the special package for Malkangiri and the Sunabeda Area Development Agency (SADA) in the Nuapada District. The performance of these initiatives has, however, been far from satisfactory. Expressing displeasure at the tardy pace of developments efforts on August 19, 2013, Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh claimed that the 'non-utilisation' of INR 130 billion of Central funds under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) by the Odisha Government had contributed to a spurt in LWE activities in the State.
Nevertheless, encouraged by the decline in Maoist violence, the Odisha Government has asked for the deployment of two additional battalions of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), to consolidate the gains of the recent past. At present there are 17 CAPF battalions – eight BSF, eight CRPF and one of the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (COBRA) – deployed in Odisha. Additionally, the State Police has 57 SOG teams. However, the Police-population ratio in the State, at 110 to 100,000, is far below the low national average of 138 (as on December 31, 2012, NCRB data), and the capacities and quality of general policing are poor. On February 18, 2013, Malkangiri SP Akhileswar Singh disclosed that the State Government had decided to establish at least six model Police Stations in the Malkangiri District within a 'few months'.
Counter-insurgency operations against the Maoists in Odisha are at a critical juncture. Maoist violence is now concentrated mostly in two clusters of Districts: Koraput-Malkangiri-Nabarangpur and Nuapada-Balangir-Bargarh. The comprehensive decline in Maoist fortunes has created an opportunity for the State to move ahead more emphatically. Despite recent attempts to revive activities through civilian killings, the Maoists remain unambiguously on the defensive in Odisha. Effective policies and operations can go a long way to consolidate state successes and establish a permanent peace in the State.