Odisha: Red March and the Deception

Last Updated: Tue, Sep 03, 2013 09:57 hrs
Odisha: Red March and the Deception

At least four Border Security Force (BSF) personnel were killed and two were injured in a landmine blast triggered by Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres on the Ghat Road near Ralegada on National Highway 26 in the Koraput District of Odisha on August 27, 2013.

On August 22, an encounter occurred between an estimated 20 CPI-Maoist cadres and Security Force (SF) personnel in the Gandhamardan Forest area of Paikamal in Bargarh District. However, no casualty was reported.

A day earlier, motorboat services to 151 villages in and around the Balimela Reservoir in Malkangiri District were indefinitely suspended following CPI-Maoist threats. The move completely cut off around 25,000 people living in the area. The service was resumed on August 31, 2013, after hectic efforts by the District administration.

On July 17, 2013, CPI-Maoist cadres killed a contractor in Koraput District, claiming he was a Police informer. Earlier, on July 8, Maoist cadres killed two civilians in Malkangiri District, again on the grounds that they were Police informers.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Odisha has recorded 538 fatalities, including 226 civilians, 172 SF personnel and 140 Maoists, since the formation of the CPI-Maoist on October 14, 2004. In 2013, the State has recorded 23 fatalities, including 12 civilians, five SFs and six Maoists (all data till September 1, 2013).

64.31 per cent of the fatalities since October 2004 have taken place in Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur, Rayagada, Balangir, Kalahandi and Nuapada Districts. Malkangiri recorded the highest number of fatalities (155), followed by Koraput (122), Rayagada (36), Nuapada (19), Nabarangpur (8), Balangir (5), Kalahandi (1). In 2013, Malkangiri has already registered 11 fatalities, followed by Koraput (6), Rayagada (3), Nuapada (1) and Bolangir (1). Gajpati District, which falls outside this cluster, recorded one fatality.

It is significant that these seven Districts, plus an eighth, Sonepur, have been covered under the much-hyped Kalahandi-Balangir-Koraput (KBK) scheme, which was initiated on August 18, 1995, with an aim to alleviate poverty, bridge disparities and develop the physical and social infrastructure of the region. Indeed, during the extended course of this scheme, Kalahandi, Balangir and Koraput were sub-divided further, purportedly to secure good governance and better administration. Malkangiri, Nabarangpur and Rayagada were carved out of Koraput District on October 2, 1992, while Sonepur became a District on April 1, 1993; and Nuapada was carved out of Kalahandi District on March 27, 1993.

However, despite the Central Government spending INR 19.63 billion to bring this cluster of eight Districts out of decades of backwardness, poverty, illiteracy and corruption, the lack of basic minima of health, educational and social services and utter maladministration continue to plague the region. The percentage of persons below the poverty line in the eight Districts of the KBK region stood at 66.28 in 2009-10; the figure for the non-KBK Districts of Odisha is 31.41. A report submitted by the State Government to the National Human Rights Commission in 2011 accepted that about 1,600 persons had died in the region on account of various easily curable diseases such as diarrhoea, jaundice, tuberculosis and malaria during the preceding couple of years. The report further noted that, over the preceding five years, there had been a widespread outbreak of diarrhoea in the region on two occasions, and that the region still lacked basic health services to deal with elementary diseases.

Unsurprisingly, the region has emerged as one of the most fertile operational areas for the CPI-Maoist. On August 17, 2013, Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh observed that the CPI-Maoist was running a "parallel administration" in Maoist-affected areas of Odisha, "as poverty alleviation programmes are not reaching out to designated beneficiaries."

Indeed, according to an April 15, 2013, media report, in a letter written to 13 State Governments, and based on an intelligence assessment on the Maoists´ effort at expansion, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) acknowledged that the Maoists had formed the Chhattisgarh-Odisha Border State Committee with three divisions to operate in Mahasamund, Gariaband and Dhamtari Districts on the Chhattisgarh side of the interstate border, and in Balangir, Bargarh and Nuapada Districts on the Odisha side of the border. "This has helped create a corridor between the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee area on the one hand, and Bihar-Jharkhand-North Chhattisgarh Special Area Committee area on the other," the letter added. It observed, further, that the area needed "to be closely monitored in view of the party´s [CPI-Maoist] plans to convert the Sunabeda Forest area in Nuapada District into a base area." In an earlier assessment on Maoist violence in the Nuapada, Balangir and Bargarh Districts of western Odisha, SAIR had also reached similar conclusions.

Underlining the strategic importance of Sunabeda Sanctuary, which falls under Nuapada District of Odisha, Jairam Ramesh, after returning from Nuapada on January 13, 2013, wrote to Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, stating, "In Nuapada District, it is clear that the incidents of Maoist violence have gone up sharply in the last few years. The Sunabeda Forest area has become the hub of Maoist activity and the attacks on the neighbouring Districts like Kalahandi and Balangir are being executed from Sunabeda area." Ramesh was proposing a ´special development plan´ in the Sunabeda area on the lines of the Saranda Development Plan in Jharkhand. Though the Union Minister did not elaborate on rising Maoist activities in Nuapada, SATP data shows that the District has recorded 19 violent incidents, including 10 incidents of killing resulting in 19 deaths (10 civilians and nine SF personnel) since 2009. Significantly, Nuapada registered its first Maoist-related fatality on November 18, 2009, when a former ward member of the Sunabeda Panchayat (village level local self Government institution), Chandar Singh Barge (60), was shot dead by CPI-Maoist cadres inside the Sunabeda Wildlife Sanctuary area. The worst Maoist-related incident in the District occurred on May 23, 2011, when the Maoists triggered a landmine blast in the Sunabeda Forest, killing nine Policemen, including the Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) of Gariabandh District (Chhattisgarh). The most recent incident of killing in the District occurred on February 8, 2013, when a Sikhya Sahayak(stipendiary primary school teacher) was killed by the Maoists at Pathpani village. Soon after the incident 250 villagers left their homes, fearing further violence, as the Maoists had asked the villagers to oppose the Civic Action Programme of the Police and stop ´working as Police informers´. The villagers later met the Nuapada District Collector and Superintendent of Police on March 6, 2013, and petitioned the officials to treat them as displaced persons. They had also appealed to Chief Minister Patnaik to relocate them to some other villages. Media reports indicate that these villagers are yet to return to their own villages.

Earlier, the threat of Maoist violence stopped Union Minister Jairam Ramesh, who visited Nuapada on February 16, 2013, from visiting the Sunabeda Sanctuary on advice of the District Police. According to reports, the area´s Member of Parliament (MP) Bhakta Charan Das and Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Rajendra Dholakia have also been unable to visit the area for the past three years.

Worried over the rise of Maoist violence in the region, Chief Minister Patnaik has demanded deployment of two additional Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) battalions and a MI-17 military helicopter to contain fresh build-up by the Maoists in Nuapada, Balangir and Bargarh Districts. According to reports, 17 battalions of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) are currently deployed in Odisha. He contended that heavy deployment of SFs across the border in Chhattisgarh was pushing the Maoists into Odisha. Indeed, the region shares its borders with seven Districts of Chhattisgarh (Raigarh, Mahasamund, Gariaband, Dhamtari, Kondagaon, Bastar and Sukma), out of which three Districts (Kondagaon, Bastar and Sukma) are among the 26 worst Maoist-affected Districts of the country. The region also shares its borders with Khammam, East Godavari, Visakhapatnam, Vizianagaram and Srikakulam Districts of Andhra Pradesh, among which Khammam and Visakhapatnam, still find place in the category of the 26 worst Maoist-affected Districts.

Meanwhile, the State Government, after failing to deliver on the developmental front despite expending vast amounts through various schemes, including the KBK scheme, has now decided to establish the ´Sunabeda Area Development Agency (SADA)´ by integrating various welfare schemes currently being implemented under various departments. The project has an estimated cost of INR 2.4 billion and is to be implemented over five years.

With continuing violence and widespread insecurity among the people, it is not clear how these projects are to be implemented in the target region. According to National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) data, Odisha has a State Police-population ratio of 110 to 100,000. Ratios in the Maoist afflicted areas are worse. In Nuapada, for instance, there are just 10.38 Policemen per 100 square kilometres and 66 policemen per 100,000 population.

The continuing failure to address the issue of security and the persistent Maoist insurgency make a mockery of any pretence of establish ´good governance´ or bring ´development´ to the people in afflicted areas. Indeed, the very large sums of money that have already been allocated and spent purportedly for the ´development´ of these areas, and the absence of any quantifiable impact, suggest that the enthusiasm for special packages in areas of instability and conflict have motives other than the welfare of the people.

(The writer Mrinal Kanta Das is Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management)

(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)

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