Tag Archives: chhattisgarh

Sukma, CG: Cops won’t occupy fortified stations till furniture & colouring is done

Assuring the assembly of chief ministers of ten Maoist-hit states about the centre’s support in terms of training, resources and intelligence, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh added a condition nevertheless. “But states must take initiative to conduct operations and use resources optimally”, he said before inaugurating the key meeting on May 8. While the national meet was called in the wake of repeated reverses suffered in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district, Singh’s words have failed in making any impact in that very place. Exemplifying that irony are two ready yet unused ‘heavily-fortified police stations which can serve as an impregnable base for nearly 200 troops’ at any given point in time.

Ready for months now and located in the heart of the troubled Sukma district, the local police has failed to move in to either of them. Inexplicably it has ensured that policemen and counterparts from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) continue to operate in lesser strength from older barracks in the vicinity.

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Report appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on May 18, 2017

Running south from the town of Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region is the National Highway (NH) 221, re-named as NH30. It has had a particularly bloodied past. Among the instances of bloodlust the road has witnessed, the brutal massacre of the Congress party’s state leadership in the Jheeram Ghati in May 2013 reverberates in the national consciousness to this date. Located along that highway are the towns of Kukanar and Chhindgarh, separated by 15km. It is in these towns that the two fortified police stations have been constructed under central assistance where funds up to Rs 624 crore have been made available to ten states for a total of 400 such police stations. There are in all 75 such police stations earmarked for Chhattisgarh alone.

According to a local resident in Kukanar, “The building has been ready since the end of 2016 but no one has occupied it yet. Earlier this year, villagers were asked to attend its inauguration but we are still waiting for an invite.” Similarly in Chhindgarh, locals said the building was awaiting occupancy since nearly a year. “May be it is about not getting VIPs to inaugurate it or something else, we don’t know. There are other smaller police stations in other parts of Sukma also lying empty we have heard,” said another local resident.

When asked for its response and stand on the issue, the Home Ministry kept mum. In Chhattisgarh, DM Awasthi, Special Director General, Anti Naxal Operations (ANO) said, “The one at Kukanar has been handed over to us six months back. I have ordered my staff to operationalise it immediately. In Chhindgarh, there are minor repairs pending.” Sukma’s Superintendent of Police, Abhishek Meena when asked said, “Chhindgarh building is ready but colouring and repair work is left. In Kukanar, we have ordered furniture and awaiting its set up”.

Kukanar building
The brand new compound in Kukanar lying unused. ‘Handed over to us six months back. I have ordered my staff to operationalise it immediately’, says senior police officer DM Awasthi. SOURCE: JUGAL R PUROHIT

This delay has not gone down well with members of the security set up.

“Where is the will to take on Maoists? In Delhi, they talk about doing things on war-footing, senior officials fly in and out conducting meetings and on the ground, the police is unwilling to move, wasting precious infrastructure,” said a source on the condition of anonymity. Another source observed, “Across the country, there is outrage over how Maoists are killing security forces and here the policemen are waiting for well-designed, coloured and comfortable police stations”.

Chhindgarh building
Chhindgarh’s fortified police station lying unused. The area SP told me his force had sought colouring and repair jobs before they could move it. SOURCE: JUGAL R PUROHIT

Interestingly, in the aftermath of the Burkapal ambush in Sukma last month where 25 CRPF personnel were killed by the Maoists, the centre had defended the state police’s role. In a statement released on April 26th, the union home ministry had stated, “It is incorrect to say that Chhattisgarh Police is in shambles. In addition to 45,000 Central Forces, over 20,000 State Police personnel are posted in Bastar region. The Chhattisgarh police forces are well equipped and a Bastar package for police was introduced in end 2015. There is complete coordination between Centre and State forces”.

STORY FIRST APPEARED ON INDIA TODAY PORTAL: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/rajnath-singh-maoists-chhattisgarh-police-stations/1/955854.html

16 months into the job, NSA Ajit Doval takes first ground lessons in Maoist-hit Bastar

Article appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on October 2, 2016
Article appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on October 2, 2016

It is a visit about which very few knew and was to be kept under wraps. India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval spent  the whole of Thursday in the region worst affected by the Maoist insurgents, Chhattisgarh’s Bastar. This was his first visit to this region since the time he took charge of India’s national security last year. His visit comes at a time when the divergence between the state and the centre has widened over the aspect of how to take the anti-Maoist fight forward. It also comes at a time when the monsoon has nearly retreated and anti-Maoist operations in full flow are set to commence.

Sources informed this correspondent that Doval flew in from New Delhi to Chhattisgarh.  Subsequently, he boarded  a helicopter and undertook an aerial tour of Sukma district in Chhattisgarh. The southern part of Sukma is a region the Maoists label as ‘liberated zone’ or a region where they, not the government machinery, run the show. After he concluded his aerial sortie, he held a review meeting with authorities on the ground which included the top brass of the state police, state government and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).He returned to New Delhi before the end of the day. “This was a visit where the NSA was keen to absorb and understand all the stake holders. He gave us all a patient hearing,” said a source.

While the official line was to keep a low profile, sharp differences have emerged over the conduct of these operations. The state administration, branded ‘non-starter’ and ‘non-serious’ many times over by the officials at the centre felt they were not being understood fully, whereas those at the centre believe otherwise. A classic example of this was the ill-fated CRPF-driven operation, ‘Operation SS (South Sukma) 14’ conducted last December which led to the loss of lives of several CRPF personnel. This operation, conducted by about 700 CRPF men saw a much smaller force of the Maoists successfully thwart it and cause casualties. That the local police was not fully convinced and thus did not participate fully only helped the Maoists. State police on its part, despite the raging insurgency, has failed to even recruit itself in numbers already authorised. There is about 10 per cent shortfall in its total strength at present.

“It is a surprise that someone as important as the NSA has found time only now. It, in a way, tells you of the priority that the government has. Nevertheless, now that he has gone we hope he has learnt the right lessons and his role will help the man on the ground perform his duty better,” said a source.

INTERVIEW: SAIBABA TALKS ON PEERS, PRISON & PM

Article appeared in MAIL TODAY on July 12, 2015
Article appeared in MAIL TODAY on July 12, 2015

“He is like a General Post Office (GPO) of the Maoist insurgents because he ensures a smooth flow of information between the insurgents in the jungles and supporters in urban centres and abroad,” said a senior police officer in Maharashtra, aware of his case. The forty seven year old could only smile at this thought, sitting inside his official residence in Delhi’s North Campus. “If I am a GPO and the Indian state knows that, why disrupt the flow? They can gain more by stealthily monitoring me,” he replied. Dr. G Naga Saibaba, an activist, a teacher and someone who the security establishment believes to be a ‘thorough Maoist but for his handicap and family commitments’ returned home on July 4, following a three-month bail on medical grounds, secured from the Bombay High Court.

The Maharashtra Police, whose manner of arresting Dr Saibaba, in which he was swiftly taken to Nagpur while returning from an examination in New Delhi on May 9, 2014 made headlines. The cops believe Dr. Saibaba, who was born and grew up in East Godavari in Andhra Pradesh, to be a scout for the outlawed Communist Party of India (CPI) Maoist who motivated and funneled leaders into strife torn regions for carrying on with the group’s violent agenda. That he teaches under graduates, post graduates and research students only adds to his importance for the Maoists, police believes. “I am a teacher, not a preacher. A number of my peers, people who studied with me, worked with me in over three decades have gone underground. Most of them are dead today. From that emanates the circumstantial suspicion that agencies have of me. It is completely unfounded,” stated Saibaba, a PhD holder from Delhi University and a resident of Delhi for over two decades. “Can anyone show me an instance where I have stated the Maoist position as mine? Yes, I oppose fake encounters and human rights abuses and oppose bans on anyone, be it CPI Maoist or Bajrang Dal, if it is banned,” he added.

Asked for his views on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s offer to Maoists to drop the gun and pick up the pen, he smiled. “Pen was my weapon and see what was done to me. Violence perpetrated by the state is much bigger than that by smaller groups. I believe dialogue between the government and opposing groups is important however don’t ask me to lead efforts for it. I am better off a teacher,” he said referring to previous attempts to goad him into mediating a truce. With regards to the development model being pursued by the Modi government, he said, “It is no different from the UPA. The manner in which mineral resources are being pursued will lead to resistance, I am certain.”

Recounting his fourteen months in the Nagpur Central Prison’s anda cell (solitary confinement cell the shape of which resembles that of egg) he admitted that while nobody tortured him physically, “conditions were consciously created which amounted to that”. Wheelchair bound Dr Saibaba, who stated his disability as ’90 per cent’ described the prison conditions akin to those in the “18th century”, and stated, ” Video conferencing  room, medical room, meeting room have steps leading up and thus are all out of bound if you are on a wheelchair. What option did I have but to allow myself to be lifted like a luggage by fellow inmates!”.

CASE AGAINST DR SAIBABA:

Police have charged Dr Saibaba with being a member of a banned organisation, hatching criminal conspiracy for arranging meetings of urban and the underground cadre in the jungles of Abujmadh forests along Maharashtra-Chhattisgarh border as well as forging international links to support the CPI Maoist. Sections  13, 18 and 39 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 have been slapped against him.

OPINION: @drramansingh, the collector’s sunglasses are off, what about the blinkers you are wearing?

It took me a while last week to digest the message I had just received. When I did, I was left impressed.

After all, it speaks about the efficiency of an administration when it spots and decides to pull up its senior staffer (that too an Indian Administrative Service officer) for wearing inappropriate clothes and keeping his sunglasses on while receiving someone as up the order as the prime minister.

No sooner did I sit back, feeling good, something else hit me. It was my duty, I felt, to inform such an establishment of what I knew, since my editors have been liberal in allowing me opportunities to report from the conflict zone that the Bastar region is.

So here is my effort to help them.

To begin with, in any insurgency-hit region, the police have to stabilise the situation for the civil administration to come in. Till that happens, vacancies will remain in sectors like education, water supply, medical services, revenue and the like. The impact this has on the public, which is as such, in dire need of basic services, is self-explanatory. This also implies that the only department which does not, and cannot, have vacancies is the police.

Speaking of Bastar, despite the bloody insurgency marauding the inhabitants for nearly two decades, even as on date, the local police department is understaffed. Of the 9,245 police posts sanctioned, 8,214 have been filled up, leaving Bastar understaffed by 1,031 police personnel across ranks. To fill up the void, it must be conceded, the efficient administration announced an initiative in 2013. It appealed to all the existing and retired Indian Army personnel to join its ranks. What better can a challenged police ask for than the trained and disciplined army personnel manning its ranks! But so poorly crafted was the scheme that till date, army headquarters data shows not more than two army personnel have taken up the offer.

Recently, when I was in Dantewada, I sat with a notepad and let jawans from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) speak unhindered (CRPF is the biggest contributor to the anti-Maoist efforts in the region). Before going ahead, what is important to note is that these jawans are operating on the invitation of the state government which sought their presence to counter the Maoists, which in turn, makes the state responsible for providing them with basic amenities like drinking water and accommodation.

The photograph of the camp where I chatted with the jawans speaks volumes of how the administration has treated them. So I will refrain from expending words. It was brought to my notice by these men that many of them have to cheat death just so that they can go on leave. These men, the flag-bearers of the state’s existence in the conflict zone, say the moment they step out of their camps, their force disowns them. They are provided with no facilities to navigate out of the danger zone. Instead, they are to wait for a civil bus to pick them up and take them home – a process in which only recently two policemen have been identified, pulled out and shot dead by the insurgents.

The state of the inhabitants is worse than those posted there for duty.

What this administration deserves to know is that at an average of one per week, at least 21 civilians have been killed, caught in the crossfire between the security agencies and insurgents, since January 1 this year. Add to this the casualties of security personnel and Maoist fighters and the number goes beyond 51 in less than six months. Such is the intensity.

Does it call for a ceasefire? A solid initiative for talks to begin? Many say that if India can talk to Pakistan, China and insurgent groups in the North East, why not with the Maoists? Whether there is merit or not in initiating a dialogue, the fact remains that the administration is not uttering a word. It is as if, normalcy prevails.

Data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), compiled by the Bastar-based Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group has further substance which the administration deserves to look at. The already-crowded prisons of the state are overflowing and the percentage today is more than twice the national average. Bastar’s prisons, most notorious among which is the one at Kanker, have clocked overcrowding of up to 623 per cent. There is data to prove that while in the country overall, an undertrial has to languish for 9.7 months, under the administration in Bastar, an undertrial has to wait for 21.8 months, which is almost two years! All this on one side, and complete acquittals to the extent of 96.2 per cent (as seen in the latest available data of 2013) on the other side, tell you that most of those made to suffer the wait are the local tribals and are seldom convicted.

While my effort is that of informing the administration in the hope that they will focus their attention on these issues, the fact is that today’s government in Chhattisgarh is in its third term. Does that leave chief minister Raman Singh any room to speak about not having enough time on hands?

So while the sunglasses are off, frankly, I am waiting for the administration’s blinkers to go too.

ORIGINAL PIECE APPEARED HERE: http://www.dailyo.in/politics/bastar-raman-singh-dantewada-chhattisgarh-maoism-naxalism-narendra-modi/story/1/3935.html

Saturday’s Sukma ambush & the undoing of ‘Fighter Rao’

A snap of State Highway 5 in Sukma district
A snap of State Highway 5 in Sukma district

As the crow flies, hardly 5km separate Kasalpar and Pidmel in the southern Sukma, Chhattisgarh. More importantly, they both lie south of bombed and beaten State Highway 5, the Dornapal-Jagargonda road which is also the de-facto border south of which lies the ‘liberated’ territory, the very heart of India’s Maoist insurgency. It is a placement which anyone familiar with the region will tell you is outright deadly. What led 45-year-old ‘Fighter’ Rao, Sub Inspector Shankar Rao, a part of Special Task Force (STF), to lead an assault to Pidmel and invariably to the STF’s most miserable moment on Saturday morning is something most are not able to understand.

After all, Shankar Rao was well aware that barely four months ago, a 900-odd strong Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) party which included the specialist CoBRA commandos could not do much when challenged in Kasalpar. That party paid the price with the loss of fourteen of its men, their arms and of course, morale.

Back then, not openly though, the Chhattisgarh Police which did not want that operation, castigated the CRPF for attempting ‘Rambo-style’ operations. Today, it is unable to come to terms with what hit its STF which has had a much better track record than most in Bastar.

45-year-old STF Sub Inspector Shankar Rao
45-year-old STF Sub Inspector Shankar Rao

Rao perhaps had inkling.

On Friday night, the sub inspector had called the Personal Assistant to STF’s Deputy Inspector General (DIG) J Sharma. In the brief conversation told the PA, “Is baar aar paar ki ladhai hogi” (this will be a do or die kind of a battle) before hanging up. He was advised to wait. He also had a word with the local Sub Divisional Police Officer who told him to share his information and plan with the Superintendent of Police (SP) Sukma. He tried but poor communication links ensured he couldn’t.

Barely four days old at their location of Pollampalli, the STF bosses wanted to reinforce teams, add manpower before operations could be launched. Friday evening was not a time to hit. It was the time to familiarise and wait.

Based on information that was passed to Rao, he decided, he could wait any longer. That night, the 48 fellow members of the STF whom he commanded, he exhorted them to move. Despite the men from the local police being stationed along with the STF in Pollampalli, he did not ask them to join.

Following the tactics, the team marched and marvellously covered 18km in the thick of the night before making it to Karigundam. This was discovered with a degree of awe when those who survived were spoken to and their Global Positioning System (GPS) sets examined. “Only someone like Shankar Rao could have achieved the stealth, swiftness and stamina required to do what he did,” said Bastar Inspector General of Police, SRP Kalluri.

At 7:30am, the ‘tac’ headquarters of the STF got an ‘all ok’ signal from Shankar Rao’s team. This meant that while they had not scored, they were not hurt either.

Unknown to Rao and his superiors, the Maoists were tailing them all along.

Another message that the ‘tac’ headquarters received at 10:59am told them something had happened.

A senior officer said, “They had stopped for food near Pidmel. While they were consuming the dry ration, the Maoist enticed them by bringing before them two civilians and a uniformed cadre who had a weapon. This made Rao order his men to chase with Rao leading them all.”

Having negated the principle of commander always being in the middle of a party it was hardly a surprise that in the first shot that the Maoists fired after the STF entered the ambush, Shankar Rao was fatally hit.

Losing the commander can instil panic. Men from the STF, trained for situations like this one, emerged victorious albeit headless. The men picked up Rao’s body and were pulling out when they were attacked again. This time, they lost three more men. Picking up their bodies too, the now-45-member team began moving. Again, they were attacked. This time too they lost three men. Panic had begun setting in. To flee successfully was now the goal. They dropped all the seven bodies and fled.

“Had it been the police or the CRPF, the Maoists would have wiped out the entire party of 49. The entire ambush was 3km long. The STF men pulled out and in doing so ensured that of the seven dead bodies, the Maoists could only snatch weapons from three,” said a source.

As a result of this result, there is caution in the air. As such the Maoists are amidst, what they term Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign (TCOC) – a period coinciding with summer months when Maoists unleash violence and bleed the security forces.

Under Kalluri, police has chosen to consolidate their presence in the periphery rather than enter the core area directly. “There was no need to operate this way and that too here. Even STF on being deployed in such areas would atleast move with two parties,” said an officer.  “He knew what he was getting into. Don’t think of him as an irresponsible officer or a drunkard who took himself and his men down under influence,” said an officer who described Rao as a cautious teetotaller.

Perhaps Rao’s undoing lies among heaps of praises his actions would always earn him. “These officers who tell him all kinds of things and rightly so however one must remember that there is a thin line of difference between being brave and being foolhardy,” said a source.

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/sukma-massacre-the-undoing-of-fighter-rao/1/429933.html

IT’S A FIRST! After taking blame for NOT undertaking ‘risky’ missions, IAF undertakes a daring night evac in Bastar

On Monday evening when Chhattisgarh police informed the Indian Air Force (IAF) detachment in Raipur of a sudden need to extricate its personnel injured by Maoist insurgents in Kanker district of Bastar, the rulebook and Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) simply did not permit the operation. Even the state government, despite repeated reminders had failed to install night landing infrastructure in helipads around police outposts. Notwithstanding, first ever night evacuation was conducted as a result of which the jawans could be brought in for treatment at Raipur. The IAF has been flying its helicopters since 2009 as a part of Operation Triveni which aims at supporting the anti-Maoist effort across central and eastern India.

Article appeared in MAIL TODAY newspaper on February 3, 2015
Article appeared in MAIL TODAY newspaper on February 3, 2015

Last December’s Maoist ambush in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh where no helicopter, either of Indian Air Force (IAF) or Border Security Force (BSF), took off in aid of ambushed Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans was an instance of severe failure of coordination among forces.

The local police was leading an operation in the Pakhanjur region of the Kanker district when between 4-5pm, an exchange of fire was reported and it soon turned into a full scale encounter with the police claiming the death of the Maoist insurgents who attacked the police party. While additional forces were rushed and personnel extricated, two police personnel lost their lives while six others sustained injuries.

“Following the request, a Mi17 V5 helicopter took off at about 1820 hours, landed in the makeshift helipad in campus of the Bandeh police station in Kanker by 1915hrs and within ten minutes, it took off in pitch darkness to land back in Raipur by 2020hrs,� said a Ministry of Defence (MoD) official. It was an operation done despite obvious and present risks, he added. When probed, it was revealed that unlike south Bastar’s Sukma region, in Kanker’s Bandeh campus, there were no hillocks which the Maoists could have used to hit the choppers. “People may ask if we could do it here why not in Sukma but it needs to be understood there the terrain is totally different and here there is better familiarity,� said a source.

STARTING FEBRUARY: Forces fighting Maoists to have eye in the sky as UAV base finally shifts from Hyd to Bhilai, Chhattisgarh

Article appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on December 31
Article appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on December 31

The coming year may bring in some desperately needed relief to men combating the Maoists in central Indian states in the form of better intelligence gathering and coordination. After more than three years since it was first mooted, the base of operations for the Israel-made Heron Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) will be shifted from Begumpet airport in Hyderabad to Bhilai in western Chhattisgarh. This arrangement, according to sources involved, will be in place by the end of February 2015.

Yesterday, the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) division of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) held a meeting in New Delhi where the issue under discussion was the ‘delay’ of establishment of the base in Bhilai. At the end of the meeting, according to a stakeholder who was present, “It was unanimously decided that by February we should be able to begin flying from Bhilai. It will mean better availability of the UAV, better exploitation of the asset and most importantly, more flying time on hand.”

The UAV in question is operated by the spy agency National Technological Research Organization (NTRO) and is actually flown by Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel who are on deputation to the agency. Ever since December 2011 when the first UAV flight was conducted by the NTRO for the Central Reserve Police Force in South Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region, the demand has been to shift the aircraft out of Hyderabad to a location closer to the area of operation. A letter written by the then Director General of the CRPF, K Vijay Kumar to then Home Secretary RK Singh while commending the role discharged and valuable inputs it provided stated, “The UAV almost took three hours to reach from Hyderabad and could effectively be utilised only for 3-3 1/2 hours for the area of operation.”

Ever since then MHA, CRPF as well as NTRO have been locked in discussions about just where the UAVs should be based out of. Finally in 2012, an airstrip in Bhilai was identified and work began towards upgrading and establishing all facilities there.

According to a source in Chhattisgarh aware of the actual up gradation at the Bhilai site, operations can be initiated at the airstrip by February. “As I see it, work is on in full swing and February should not be too difficult a target to achieve,” he said.

The forces have had a rather uncomfortable relationship with the NTRO. Recently in the Sukma ambush where the CRPF lost 14 men, the force complained to the MHA that the NTRO unilaterally pulled out the UAV right when the encounter began.

The NTRO’s explanation was that it had run out of fuel and had no option left. Time and again, the CRPF and MHA have been pressing the NTRO to move out of Hyderabad. However the infrastructure in Bhilai is only now coming up. Such has been the MHA’s frustration that it has ordered CRPF to procure UAVs and train its own personnel to avoid reliance on NTRO/IAF personnel. Said a source, “Issue was acquiring the land and creating the infrastructure. Multiple departments of the centre and state governments were involved and thus a lot of red tape too.”

Why Bhilai as a base

While operations from Hyderabad ensured that the UAV hardly had ‘Time on Task’ by the time it reached areas of south Bastar and Gadchiroli, far less over Jharkhand, placing the same in Bhilai makes it possible to do so. The location is central to regions of Bastar, Gadchiroli, western Odisha as well as Jharkhand and Bihar.

Why a UAV can be a game changer

UAV relays live images of the situation back to the control room with the help of a high-resolution camera on its belly and satellite networking, which is then shared with the troops in real time. For the security forces, UAVs changed the game. Notwithstanding the foliage, penetrating which remains a challenge, the forces know the exact area of the Maoists’presence, and also asses the topography and execute an operation – an edge they never had.