Tag Archives: Maharashtra

A lesson learnt

I worry too much. Perhaps it comes naturally to people with exposure to news, information and happenstance or may be its just me.

The month was April. We were in the hill town of Panchgani, located about 250km from Mumbai. My wife and I decided it was time to explore the forest in front of the villa we had rented apartments in. Earlier in the day I had spotted a fox or two and thought it would be good to look closely.  With our trekking shoes on, we were on the go. I wouldn’t say it was the best time to go because the sun was on the top and there wasn’t much really to explore once we reached the place.

Anyway, while we were walking, a woman called out to us. She was standing in front of what looked like an under-construction bungalow by the hill-side. We’d seen the place from our villa and truth to tell, admired its location perched as it was on the edge of the hill, overlooking a gorgeous valley, several waterfalls, a dense forest and villages spaced out by several kilometres.

But what did the lady want?

Well, all she did was invite us into the bungalow and showed us the rooms! While we were reluctant, she enthusiastically showed us the basement then the ground floor then the floor above followed by the common porch. She wanted us to admire the beds they had specially sculpted using workers from Mumbai and Pune. The toilets and the marble flooring and on she went. I still wondered what was it that the lady sought? Was this a ploy to rob us? May be get us to taste something, get us unconscious and then take away our valuables (which they would later discover had little value)? Why would someone just take some strangers around their property like this? While my wife indulged the lady, I began mapping the exit routes. In fact, it won’t be an understatement to say I viewed the woman and the workers at the site with a heightened degree of suspicion. Out of nowhere, the lady summoned her husband and then her son!

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This is the property we were shown

By this time, we’d managed to wriggle out to the entrance of the building. Slightly better-placed to scoot should the need arise, we were at relative ease.

The husband later confided how he, an agriculturist, had emptied his savings into building that guest house for tourists. He owned the entire land and had decided to give into his son’s request to better utilise it. Apart from the room, they would rent tents, conduct guided treks, offer visitors a chance to soil their hands in strawberry farming among other things. The son told us of the difficulties they faced, the time they took since never before had their family of farmers had strayed into something ‘like this’. They spoke to us like we knew them since long. The son took our leave since he had to go someplace. We too were to depart when the father made a dash into his strawberry farm adjoining the property. He took, what we felt was forever in picking the best of strawberries and then came to us with a bowl full of them.

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Our parting gift!

“I will not accept this free of cost”, the principled man in me thundered.

“You pay me tens of thousands but later on”, he shot back with a disarming smile before neatly packing all them into a box for us. “We just want your best wishes as my son starts a new life. If possible, you can tell your friends to come and stay with us when they visit Panchgani. We will open shop soon,” he said.

He had no visiting card ready so he gave me son’s mobile number and told me those interested can call him to book. Abhijit Parthe: 8888972345

I will be less suspecting the next time around.

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FIGHTING INSURGENCY: Pushing men as leaders stay behind, that is what is taking place in Maharashtra Police on a bloody frontline called Gadchiroli

Article appeared in MAIL TODAY on August  7, 2015
Article appeared in MAIL TODAY on August 7, 2015

ARTICLE ON INDIA TODAY SITE

No full-time Inspector General of Police (Anti Naxal Operations) since February 2014
No full-time Deputy Inspector General for Gadchiroli range since February 2014
No full-time Superintendent of Police (SP) Special Action Group (SAG) since June 2015
Chair of the Principal of training institute, UOTC was vacant from December 2014 till middle of July 2015. Has been filled only recently.  

After considerable gains against the Maoist insurgents over the last couple of years, things in Maharashtra may be on the verge of slipping. Critical posts, dealing with the anti-Maoist struggle, in the state police remain vacant for over a year leading to a leadership vacuum. Positions like Inspector General of Police (Anti Naxal Operations), Deputy Inspector General of Police (Gadchiroli range) and Superintendent of Police Special Action Group (SAG) have no full time officers assigned. In addition, even the post of Principal of the Unconventional Operations Training Centre (UOTC) where Maharashtra Police personnel train before induction into insurgency-affected regions has only been filled recently after remaining vacant for months on end.

These charges are being held on additional charge basis by officers holding positions in the Nagpur police administration which is headquartered 170km away from the affected Gadchiroli.

Those on the ground say this lack of leadership is demoralizing and may end up providing to the Maoists a breathing space. What is important to note is that the Maoists have stated their aim is to now ‘preserve’ their battle against the might of India which has been unleashed against them since the second half of the last decade. Interestingly, while the officers at the top are missing, other officers and men at the lower level are adequately staffed.

The state police is directly under the control of the Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who holds the Home portfolio. A response was sought from the CM but none was received.

Recently released Union Home Ministry data recorded 27 ‘incidents’ till June 30 this year in which eight civilians and two security personnel were killed. Also 15 Maoists were arrested however not one Maoist insurgent was killed by the police, an admission which many believe is an indication of the dismal state of affairs. “I don’t particularly agree with that death figure being an indicator however, this is a serious development which needs to be addressed,” said an officer.

When asked, Maharashtra’s Director General of Police (DGP) Sanjeev Dayal said, “Yes, I agree they shouldn’t be left vacant. We are actively considering filling them up and it will be done soon.” When asked for a cause and the impact on the ground situation, he replied, “Things are going very well in Gadchiroli.” However, his officers did not share the optimism. “The reluctance among police officers to go to such places is not new. For nearly a year these posts are vacant. DGP can do what he wants and officers who don’t wish to go simply seek assistance from politicians,” said an officer. In Gadchiroli, the local Superintendent of Police, Sandip Patil said, “My seniors who hold additional charges are experienced officers who have worked here and thus we have a perfectly fine system,” he said. However an officer with the experience of having served in Gadchiroli questioned this optimism, he said, “If these posts are so insignificant that all is working well in their not being filled, the govt might as well abolish them and save revenue.”

Since the late 1980s, when the erstwhile People’s War migrated out of united Andhra Pradesh in search of safer pastures, the contiguous forest cover provided by Gadchiroli, Gondia and Chandrapur districts of Maharashtra was an attraction for the insurgents. Traditionally, Maoists have used these areas for rest, recuperation and recruitment as well as to launch attack in the neighbouring Bastar region in south Chhattisgarh. Seldom have they waged their battle with the intensity matching that in Chhattisgarh or Andhra Pradesh.

Maharastra’s two districts of Gadchiroli and Gondia, at its eastern most fringe, rank among the affected districts. While the former has been a long-standing history, the latter is relatively quieter.

EXPERT OPINION BY AJAI SAHNI, INSTITUTE OF CONFLICT MANAGEMENT

Lapsing into complacency is what it is. What the situation there may have improved but it can’t be called peaceful. Plus it borders the most volatile and unstable region in Chhattisgarh. You can not let your guard down. Fact that no officer is posted or wants to be posted tells you this area is far from stable. If seniors are absent, resentment will creep in. Men will say we are being pushed in and over time operational decline will set in.

MAHARASHTRA: MAOIST VIOLENCE FROM 2012 TILL JUNE 2015

34 security personnel killed
40 Maoists killed
62 civilians killed since
149 Maoists arrested

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.

#MAHARASHTRA: Fadnavis govt too busy for its commandos killed by Maoists

Report appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on April 2, 2016
Report appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on April 2, 2016

It took the lives of two commandos and merely 2.53 minutes to unmask the apathy of the ruling party to the plight of the men in uniform who fight to uphold democracy.

Maharashtra’s eastern-most corner and Maoist infested Gadchiroli district has been for over two decades a troubled region. At noon on March 23, when the district administration got together to pay final respect to the departed C60 commandos Naik Police Sepoy Doge Atram and Sepoy Swarup Amrutkar – both hail from Gadchiroli – who form a part of Maharashtra Police’s anti-Naxal special force, they realised they were alone. No politician thought it fit to attend the event which is otherwise marked with the presence of top ministers and spirited speeches towards motivating the fighting force and keeping the morale high. A video clip of the wreath laying ceremony accessed by makes it visibly clear.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who not only holds the ‘Home’ portfolio but also hails from the nearby Nagpur, gave the function a miss. His administration was not represented by even a junior minister or even an MLA. Incidentally, all the three MLAs of the Gadchiroli region, Krushna Gajbe from Armori, Ambarishrao Atram from Aheri and Dr Deorao Holi are BJP legislators with Ambarishrao, from an erstwhile royal family, having been appointed as the guardian minister for Gadchiroli district in December 2014. Ravikiran Deshmukh, advisor to Fadnavis said he will revert with CM’s response but no response was received.

When asked, Maharashtra’s Director General of Police, Sanjeev Dayal referred the matter to the Superintendent of Police, Gadchiroli, who later admitted to the fact. “We did send the invites to all concerned and the district collector was there but there was none from the political class. It could be on account of the assembly session currently underway plus we had the wreath laying the very next day following the deaths,” said Gadchiroli SP Sandip Patil.

Needless to say this has impacted the morale among the men. Some even mentioned the late RR Patil, who as Maharashtra’s Home Minister would make it a point to attend such ceremonies on most occasions. “What do I say to this? The implications of indifference will be there for all to see. The political class has to make up its mind,” said a policeman who did not wish to be quoted. “Is it too much to expect a so-called nationalist government to ensure a mere presence at such a solemn event?” asked a police officer who did not wish to be quoted.

A MOTHER SPEAKS OUT

Kalpana Amrutkar, mother of slain commando Swarup Amrutkar fell down at the site of her son’s wreath laying. She was held and comforted by the police. When reached, she had strong words for the political class. “I am told they were busy with the assembly session and thus nobody could come. Very well. Would they apply the same yardstick if their son would have been in my son’s place?” she asked. Speaking further she said, “I have three sons and they all work for the home department in Maharashtra what more can I give? I just hope people can be sensitive atleast on such occasions and also provide men like my son what they want to combat the Maoists. Many of my son’s colleagues told me about how my son was alive after being injured but helicopter never came to rescue him. This should not happen.”

FATAL FLAWS

Part of a three day, joint operation along the Maharashtra – Chhattisgarh border, the team had embarked on patrol post lunch by 4:30 pm and we’re ambushed. Both Atram and Amrutkar were hit in the chest during the opening burst that the Maoists fired. Subsequently, the C60 team retaliated and chased away the Maoists however on account of the approaching sun set and lack of night landing facility, no chopper could be launched to extricate them. While Atram died on the spot, Amrutkar was alive till 6:30pm.

It was learnt that neither of the commandos were wearing bullet proof vests. A senior officer revealed, “They are not in the habit since these vests are heavy and policing here is all about trekking.”

Visited insurgency-affected Gadchiroli recently. My ground appreciation with supporting data and voices

With a large map of the district on his office wall, a senior police officer posted here, pointed to four red pointers. “These are infiltration routes and here is where the great wall of Gadchiroli needs to be erected if we are to crush this menace,” he said. From north to south, the four western tehsils in the troubled district also share borders with Chhattisgarh’s Narayanpur and Dantwewada districts. Intelligence reports say an unspecified number of cadres of the Communist Party of India (CPI) Maoist have entered Gadchiroli using these routes recently. Ominous signs.

Though on the backfoot following a spate of losses and surrenders,
Maoists retain the initiative owing to their strategy of hit and run.
Police data also points to this urgency. ‘Joint Patrolling operations’
are undertaken when paramilitary forces and police from the bordering states are roped in for coordinated operations. The frequency has shot up. From six operations between January and July, 79 have been conducted in the last two months. The police is actively pursuing whatever leads it can get on the movement of the Maoists. It has also got additional manpower in the form of paramilitary forces, specifically for the elections. “We had nearly 70 per cent polling in the Lok Sabha polls held on April 10 and we hope to improve the count further,” said Collector Gadchiroli Ranjeet Kumar.

Pulapaka Elkurthy (right) and Samakka Gangula at the Ankisa village in south Gadchiroli. Photo by Jugal R Purohit
Pulapaka Elkurthy (right) and Samakka Gangula at the Ankisa village in south Gadchiroli. Photo by Jugal R Purohit

Pulapaka Elkurthy and Samakka Gangula live near Ankisa village at the southernmost tip of Gadchiroli. A decade ago, both their sons were killed by the police in an encounter. Speaking in Telugu, Pulapaka said, “My son had gone to the forest to pick up medicinal herbs for our cattle. He never came back. Days later the police showed us his body. Because I was too shocked I did not want to even see the body.”

As a result she does not even have her son’s death certificate.
Nobody, says Samakka, has helped them. “There are many like us here. We too are victims. Some help from the government is all we want,” she said.

Meanwhile, the candidates, while going to the people, did not even
mention the insurgency, far less talk about ways to tackle or help
people like Pulapaka and Samakka. Political activity for the three seats, all reserved Scheduled Tribe (ST) seats, is still largely taking place along the roads. Most are talking about issues like job creation, irrigation and statehood for Vidarbha. Three time minister and NCP candidate from Aheri, Dharamraobaba Atram admitted to this situation, “We are talking about getting jobs and
industries here, if that happens it will automatically solve the
problem.” His nephew who is contesting on a BJP ticket, Ambrishrao
Atram said, “People have to live here. They are already sandwiched
between the police and them.” When visited, partymen in offices of BJP and Shiv Sena spoke about everything but the insurgency. “This is a problem of the centre. We shall see,” is what a BJP office bearer
said. Gadchiroli SP Sandeep Patil said, “They can be targeted since they are directly challenging the Maoists who oppose elections.”

Violence level in Gadchiroli-Gondia region

Year    Security Personnel Killed       Civilians Killed        Maoists killed  Ambushes by Maoists     IEDs exploded
2009    52      41      07      2276    01
2010    10      34      02      1081    04
2011    08      40      05      1129    04
2012    14      25      04      1884    03
2013    06      09      26      1029    07
2014 (Till Sep 30)      11      08      13      597     06

BOX – Gadchiroli in numbers

•       893 polling stations
•       4500 polling staff
•       Seats – Gadchiroli, Aheri and Armori
•       Total voters – 7,31,105

Coast Guard gets its 82nd ship even as force fails to grow long legs at sea & piles up close coast assets

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Indian Coast Guard Ship C-402, the second of the series of thirty-six Interceptor Boats was commissioned at Mumbai by Director General Police, Maharashtra, Shri Sanjeev Dayal, IPS. The 30 metres long Interceptor Boat with 90 tonnes displacement can achieve a maximum speed of 45 knots. The vessel is fitted with state-of-the-art navigation and communication equipment and medium range armament. It is designed for high speed interception, close-coast patrol, speed interception, close-coast patrol, low-intensity maritime operations, Search & Rescue and maritime surveillance. With the commissioning of C-402, the force level of ICG has gone up to 82 ships & boats and with the planned inductions the force level would be doubling by 2018. The Interceptor Boat C-402 will be based at Ratnagiri under the Administrative and Operational Control of the Commander Coast Guard District Headquarters No 2. The IB is commanded by Deputy Commandant G Mani Kumar and has a crew of 01 Officer and 11 Enrolled Personnel. The ceremony was witnessed by Inspector General SPS Basra Commander Coast Guard Region (West) and other distinguished guests from various Central and State agencies.