Red storm risingRed storm rising

9 02 2009

Presley Thomas,
Source: Hindustan Times

Gadchiroli, February 07, 2009

IST(8/2/2009) At the ramshackle teashop in Gadchiroli, where locals gather for their morning tea and the town’s favourite snack, poha, local banter is run-of-the-mill. Most of it is centred round Bollywood’s latest action adventure, Chandni Chowk to China and with the cinema house as a backdrop just behind the teashop, villagers dissect Akshay Kumar’s antics in the movie. “How about a ticket for the afternoon show? I want to see the movie again,” says a young man. The film may have been declared a flop but it sure is a hit in this outpost, even if Gadchiroli has seen enough adventure and violence around it in the last few days.

Gadchiroli town, a three-hour drive from Nagpur, is the headquarters of a district spread across 15,000 sq km, where left-wing extremists have been waging an ‘armed struggle’ for close to 30 violent, bloody years now. Last Sunday’s massacre of 15 policemen was just the latest in a disturbing list of incidents that have all but wiped out the rule of law in this desperately poor, exploited part of India. The local populace has long learnt to balance those on either side of the law. When we ask taxi driver Pavan if he will take us into the hinterland, he looks at us warily, weighing the profits and dangers of the trip. “What time will you return?” he asks. And doesn’t wait for an answer as he declares, “Nobody travels on those roads after 6 pm. We’ll have to come back before that. Only then will I take you.” Before we can indicate our assent (we have no ch

Growing influence 1980 :
Kondapalli Seetharamaiah, legendary Naxalite leader, sets up the Peoples’ War Group of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist). It infiltrates Gadchiroli after a police crackdown on Naxalites in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and makes news in September when activist Peddy Shankar is killed in a police encounter near Sironcha, near the AP border.

1990 :Ten years after the Naxalites’ entry, the movement has taken hold and 113 incidents of violence and 16 deaths are reported.

1991:The number of violent incidents drops to 96, but deaths shoot up to 30. Naxalites kidnap Dharmarao Baba Atram, former Maharashtra minister, who was compelled to resign for poaching chinkaras near Etapalli. He is later let off in exchange for the release of their leader, Shivanna. In November, 10 SRPF jawans are killed and 13 policemen injured in a landmine blast triggered by Naxalites near Etapalli.

2003: A landmine blast kills five policemen near Hemalkasa in Gadchiroli district.

2005 :Seven police personnel killed and six injured on February 22, when a landmine is triggered near Bhamragarh, bordering Chhattisgarh.

2006 : Seven police personnel killed in a landmine blast in April at Bewartola village in Gondia district, adjacent to Gadchiroli.

2007: Naxalite leader Shivanna, now secretary of Gadchiroli division, killed in a police encounter. Murali alias Satya Reddy, divisional secretary of North-Gadchiroli, arrested along with Mumbai professor Arun Ferreira. Two more leaders, Vernon Gonsalves and Sridhar Srinivasan, are arrested in Mumbai.

2008 : Four policemen killed on October 26 in an ambush near Korepalli village in the Aheri tehsil.

2009: Fifteen policemen killed in an ambush on February 1. oice anyway) he adds, “And I will charge you extra because I’m risking my life to take you into Naxalite territory.” THE

INVISIBLE PRESENCE To begin with, the tarmac laid out across the countryside is a joy to ride on. Then, we notice that the forest has become denser. And when we spot a milestone that tells us we’re 70 km away from Gadchiroli town, we realise we have not seen a single human being for the last few kilometres. In fact, we’ve barely seen any signs of habitation.

The turning point, literally speaking, comes at Gyarapatti, where we take the diversion into red territory. “Here, it is the Naxalites who call the shots,” Pavan tells us, and then goes silent as he keeps a sharp eye on either side of the road. Any new person or vehicle entering this region is monitored. And we have to be prepared to step out of the car for an interrogation at any point. Fear hangs heavy in the air here and villagers have been forced to choose between the law and the outlaws. They most often tilt towards the Naxalites.

At Bhurgi village, some 150 km from Gadchiroli, for instance, a tribal youth was hacked to death before a numbed village audience. Those who witnessed the incident are reluctant to speak about it, much less identify themselves. “I just know that there was a fight between two parties, and in the morning I saw the boy murdered,” says one woman. Probe further and she replies, “I will have to bear the consequences if I open my mouth. ‘They will be at my doorstep in 10 minutes.”

At Tumbargunda village, five kilometres away from Bhurgi, the panchayat office was blown up. With it perished all the villagers’ precious documents. “They want to keep a gap between the locals and the political set-up,” explains a police officer. Tumbargunda is just 10 km away from a police station. But villagers sneer, “The police do not dare enter this area.” Even vehicles rarely pass through the 200-km long Ettapalli-Pendri-Michgaon-Lekha-Dhanora stretch in which the village sits.

THE SPILLOVER EFFECT The guerilla zone or ‘liberated zone’ is one that the Naxalites have carved out systematically since

1980. It was easy for them: Gadchiroli district is sandwiched between the Naxalite-dominated areas of Rajanandgaon, Kanker, Dantewada and Bijapur in Chattisgarh; and Karimnagar and Khammam in Andhra Pradesh. The Intelligence Bureau estimates that about 500 full-time CPI (Maoist) cadres are active in Gadchiroli district and have a base of nearly 4,000 to 5,000 local supporters. The Naxalites have divided Gadchiroli district into three operational divisions:

South Gadchiroli, North Gadchiroli and North Gadchiroli/Gondia. The divisions have under their command more than 20 guerilla squads and platoons. Though they earlier operated in ‘dalams’ of 15 to 20 cadres, they’ve switched to a military-style hierarchy now, of local guerilla squads, platoons, battalions and divisions. And there is hardly any police presence to deter their operations.
One senior police official who has spent almost his entire tenure in the Naxalite belt admits that the problem could have been contained much earlier. “When the Naxalites entered Maharashtra from Andhra Pradesh (see ‘Growing Influence’), our government chose to see it a just a ‘spillover’. And we are paying the price now.” Governmental apathy continues. And the Centre seems to have its head buried in the sand even now — the turbulence in the underdeveloped tribal pockets of eastern Maharashtra is conspicuously absent in the Ministry of Home Affairs’s Annual Report (2007-2008).

And the state government has yet to respond satisfactorily with enough development plans for the region. It has taken some measures, though. Pankaj Gupta, chief, anti-Naxalite operations, states that a cash reward of Rs 3 lakh has been announced for villages that follow the Gaon Bandhi scheme in which villagers opt not to provide any support to Naxalites. “When the programme started only a few villages came forward,” admits Gupta. But now, he says, “More than 500 villages in Gadchiroli district have done so.” Gupta also claims that the government’s surrender policy done well. “About 145 Naxalite cadres, including a divisional committee member, have surrendered.

They have been rehabilitated and given police protection,” he says. And Rajesh Pradhan, superintendent of police of Gadchiroli district, claims, “We have managed to restrict the Naxalites to the fringes of Chattisgarh and the Andhra Pradesh border. He adds, “Strategies are being revisited and revised, to counter the leftists’ plans.” How successful those plans will be is a matter that, unfortunately, the police alone do not decide.

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Scheme to root out naxal influence

5 11 2008

source: TOI

1 Nov 2008, 0343 hrs IST, Satyendra Kumar, TNN

Now on the threshold of its third year, Aapki Sarkar Aapke Dwar, a pioneering scheme aimed at rooting out Naxal influences through development —

has emerged as one of the most successful programmes of the state government in Jehanabad district.

Conceived by the then home secretary H C Sirohy and launched by chief minister Nitish Kumar at Sikariya village on January 21, 2006, Aapki Sarkar Aapke Dwar (Asdwar) programme has brought down considerably cases of naxalite violence in the region and also won acceptibility among rural folk, police, academics and social organisations. This is something which is a huge feat considering that several such programmes launched in the district in the past like the Operation Rakshak and Operation Siddhartha were virtual non-events.

The success of the programme — both in winning critical acclaim at various local and state-level platforms and producing outstanding results at the ground level lies in its integrated development approach and sincere efforts of the district administration to sustain the programme despite all odds.

The Jehanabad district magistrate Sanjay Kumar Agrawal, who is working with a missionary zeal to impart a new tone and content to the whole programme, said the scheme envisages to bring development to the grassroots. Under Aasdwar programme our main objective is to sanitise the Naxal-affected panchayats in the distirct first and then saturate them with development in a phased manner, he added.

The scheme is currently underway in five naxalite affected panchayats of the district Viz Sikariya, Sewanan, Mandebigha, Surungpur — Bhawanichak and Jamuk, all in Jehanabad Sadar block. All villages under these five panchayats are witnessing a flurry of developmental activities on a war footing. The state government has come out with a liberal package of Welfare Schemes under Aasdwar including construction of Cement – Concrete lanes, drains, chaupals and link rods in these panchayats worth over Rs.29 crores. Other works include construction of buildings for schools and Aanganbadi centres, culverts and individual toilets.

Also resurrected is the Dangar reservoir project which wa slong confined to the dusty files of the water resources development department.

Doles under various welfare schemes to the tune of Rs.1 crore have already been distributed at mega development camps organised in these panchayats during the past two years.

Under the plan the state government has decided to construct panchayat Sarkar Bhawan in all these five panchayats at an estimated cost of Rs.2.20 crore. Work on them is likely to commence soon.

Sikaria panchayat once considered the naxalite capital of the state, now wears a completely changed look. Sikariya today boasts of being the first panchayat in the state with its own website: www.sikariyapanchayat.bih.nic.in. The website features all the information relating to the panchayat and the Aasdwar programme.

Sikariya panchayat headquarters in currently housed in a sprawling builidng complex . The panchayat office located in this unified campus offers single window system facilities to the local people. There is a village knowledge centre with Internet facility which offers computer training to the educated unemployed rural youths including girls.

The panchayat office is fully computerised with information felating to various state and Centre sponsored schemes. The office is manned by Assistant Project Officer, Rojgar Sevak, Panchayat Sevak and revenue Karmachari during working hours. There is provision for instant issuance of job cards to the landless labourers under the NREGA. A separate police post with 20 SAP jawans is also stationed on the panchayat office campus to look after the security needs.

There is a six-bedded additional primary health centre with two doctors and paramedics. The Sikariya panchayat building complex also houses a computerised extension counter of the Madhya Bihar Gramin Bank (MBGB), an artificial insemination centre, two PDS shops and a 500-ton capacity warehouse of the state food and civil supplies corporation. The Sikariya panchayat is also all set to win Nirmal Gram Panchayat Puruskar with work on most of the toilets to be completed in the next couple of months.

Parchas, pension benefits for the old, destitute, widows and the handicapped and cycles and scholarships to the students of weaker sections are being given within the shortest processing time in the Sikariya panchayat office. Jehanabad Dm Sanjay Kumar Agrawal has been regularly visiting all these five panchayats where Aasdwar programme is underway along with a large entourage of officials and employees.

The people at large seem to have embraced the state’s Aasdwar programme in a big way. What is most unusual is that the government officials now move around freely in these villages where once every government programme was boycotted by the villagers under threats from the banned Naxalite outfit, the people’s war group (PWG). There was a time especially during the stormy 1980s when there was no direct contact between the government and the people for years together.

The locals joined forces with the Naxalites in the hope that it would alleviate poverty. But with the changing times, the people seem to have realised that the Aasdwar programme offers all that the naxalites had promised an end to poverty, homestead land, drinking water and self-employment opportunities.

Once a dreaded and inaccessible place, Sikariya boasts of many economic activities-poultry and dairy farming, horticulture, Bindi and toy-making which fetches the locals considerable monthly income. Coordinated efforts are also being made by the district rural development agency to train men and women belonging to the under privileged section and promote entregreurship among them.

To begin with, at least 100 women from the most economically backward families of Sikariya panchayt have formed three self help groups (SHGs) to augment their income. In the first phase, 30 women have been given training in Bindi making. The district administration is extending financial and marketing support to promote various economic activities among these women.

However, this charge has not come without a stiff resistance from the naxalites. Even now, the naxalites tries to put spokes in the wheel of progress rolling in the area. But thanks to the rare show of solidarity of the local people for the Aasdwar programme , the naxalites have been left with no option but to bow under the popular pressure.