Police vs Maoists: Are Indian Security Forces Strong Against Naxals?
“No poor bastard ever won a war by making ‘PowerPoint presentations’. You win a war by blood and guts, and above all, by mastering the art of warfare,” says the chief of a special force fighting Naxalites, on the strategy and unified policy to neutralise India’s biggest internal security threat.
It was a bloody Saturday for the Special Task Force’s (STF) Platoon Commander Shankar Rao when his 61-personnel team, armed and prepared for anti-Naxal operations, was caught in an open triangle ambush near Pidmel-Polampalli area of Sukma district in Chhattisgarh on April 11. Surprised by the attack from three flanks, the STF jawans did their best to come out of the ambush; ultras, however, were able to inflict heavy damages, by killing seven jawans, including Rao, and injuring 11.
This was just the beginning. For the next three days, Maoists, considered the biggest internal security threat, carried out four deadly attacks, killing four more policemen and a BSF jawan in the state. It was a tragic reminder that Naxalites still retain striking capabilities and can hit at will—despite our daily political rhetoric.
The attacks in Chhattisgarh triggered a raging debate in security establishments on whether anti-Naxal offensives have been a massive failure. And whether a combined force of state police and Central paramilitary is in a position to tackle the insurgents, operating in 76 districts across 10 states.
Let us face the facts. The government data in the past decade (2005-2015) throws horrific figures about the state of India’s anti-Naxal operations: 4,510 people—1,753 jawans and 2,757 civilians—were killed by Naxalites. During the same period, however, security forces killed 2,193 Naxalites. This means that on an average, the Naxalites killed about two persons for every one they lost in the battlefield. They also snatched away 536 sophisticated weapons from the security forces.
The sight of massacred policemen lying abandoned, with their seniors debating how to recover them ‘safely’, was the most abhorring one, says Amar Bhushan. Read more.
Now, what is worrisome is the ruthless killing of police informers. According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), in the first three months of 2015, around 19 informers, responsible for gathering and disseminating human intelligence (HUMINT), were killed.
Between 2010 and 2014, the figure was 879. The data is self-explanatory and raises a pertinent question: Has the nation made any dent on the Naxal movement? A senior IPS officer in his book notes: “We are fighting the war on their (Naxalites) terms, not our terms.” Pointing out the reasons for anti-Naxal operations not producing any worthwhile results in spite of huge investments and heavy deployment, he says, “The tragedy is that vast resources have been placed at the disposal of those who are simply not fit to command—who do not have slightest idea of combat.”
Although anti-Naxal operations are coordinated efforts of Central and state police forces, the former has deployed over 108 battalions (134,667 personnel approx.)—83 battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), 15 battalions of the Border Security Force (BSF), five battalions each of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) in the Naxal-hit areas. The states have deployed an estimated 30,000 police personnel. If we combine the total strength, 164,667 pair of boots are on the ground to crush an estimated 10,000-15,000 armed Naxalites—10 jawans to kill one Naxalite.
A senior police officer from Chhattisgarh says the deployment of forces has increased but effectiveness is not satisfactory. “The police performance can be judged by the areas that the forces recapture and continue dominating. But, if we see the statistics of the last four-five years, there is no change on the ground. Despite increase in the boots on the ground, the Maoist-dominated areas we are supposed to recapture remain elusive,” says an IG-level officer in the affected areas.
CRPF’s Director General Prakash Mishra whose challenge is to contain Naxal violence speaks to Yatish Yadav.
Senior IPS officer D M Mitra says Naxalites have been on the back foot for the last six months to one year because of loss of their senior leaders and mass desertion of their cadres. He, however, attributed the recent attacks in Chhattisgarh to the complacency on the part of the forces owing to a lull in incidents. “There was also violation of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in the second attack in which Naxalites blew up mine-protected vehicles. It was a mistake. They should not have ventured out since the area was not sanitised. I must give credit to STF for effectively cracking the Maoist ambush and saving many lives though it was a very difficult terrain,” Mitra adds.
Two other senior officers deployed in the Maoist-infested areas agree with a home ministry note on police reforms, which concluded that “little has changed in policing, despite the fact that newer forms of criminal tactics have surfaced in the last decades”. The officers, who requested anonymity, say the force has its own limitation because it works over-ground to eliminate the Naxalites fighting guerrilla war. There has been a misconception about the setback to Naxalites as threat of attack on security forces has always been there, they add.
“Sometimes there is no attack but it is not because of our proactive measures. It is due to Maoists’ design. They keep changing the tactics which sometimes are misinterpreted by the forces. So the notion of sudden spurt in attacks is wrong. If no incidents are happening, it is not because of our heroism but because of the Naxalites’ tactical counter-offensive,” the officers explain.
This year alone, 316 Naxal attacks, including 11 land mine (IED) and 13 bomb blasts, were reported. On March 27, two CRPF jawans were injured when they came in contact with a pressure bomb near Fundari in the Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh. Similar bombs were triggered on April 2 when two policemen stepped on the mine in Kanker district.
A senior officer says police on their own cannot tackle the problem because their orientation is not for combat. According to him, an SOP was prepared in 2005 on coordinated operation for Central and state police which states that the police will lead the operation while the Central paramilitary forces will assist them, but the role was reversed and now major operations are launched by the Central forces, and police personnel accompany the unit in jungle.
“There have been several incidents of turf war between the state police and Central para forces. For example, in 2008, Chhattisgarh Police filed an FIR against a CRPF jawan when a civilian got killed in a Naxalite encounter. This led to a massive showdown and the CRPF argued that even the state police inspector was part of the encounter team and how can he be spared? Notwithstanding, we should not expect the state police to become expert in jungle warfare because they simply cannot do it,” he adds.
The IPS officer in his book says there has never been any intelligence worth its name, further adding that troops go into jungle because they are supposed to undertake operations, and obey they do, groping blindly in the dark.
FLOW OF FUNDS
The Central government in the last many years has spent huge money towards Security Related Expenditure, Special Infrastructure Scheme, raising India Reserve (IR) Battalions and setting up of counter-insurgency and anti-terrorist training institutions in the affected states. The government disbursed Rs 303 crore in 2014-15 to make state policing more effective. In the last four years, it spent Rs 1,617 crore for creating special infrastructure for police and strengthening the police station. This is just the Central grant on training, fortification etc. If we take into account the money spent on ammunition as well as modernisation, the figure would be manifold. A conservative estimate on government spending, based on the killing of 63 Naxalites by the security forces and state police in 2014, leads us to the fact that each killing has cost the exchequer Rs 78-80 crore.
Former Minister of State for Home RPN Singh in 2013 had admitted that the Naxalite “attacks could succeed mainly due to failure of adherence to basic policing tactics and practices by some of the state police forces.” Singh had told the Lok Sabha that “the security forces need to be alert in Naxal-affected areas even when elaborate intelligence inputs are not available. The conditioning of the security forces should be such that counter-measures against such attacks should be built into normal policing functions”.
Mitra, however, says police station fortification and personnel training helped in ensuring better security. Snatching of weapons have decreased in the last year.
CRISIS IN COMBAT
The Central paramilitary personnel not only lose their lives to the blood-thirsty Naxalites, their deaths due to diseases in inhabitable jungles too is a matter of concern. Also, the CRPF is threatened by attrition. Around 16,523 personnel quit the force during 2009-2012.
On March 4, the MHA said the CRPF lost 323 jawans since 2009 in anti-Naxal operations while 978 lost their lives due to diseases. In fact, more CRPF jawans lost their lives to heart attacks (642 deaths) than killed in action. As many as 228 personnel in the last five years committed suicide while 108 died due to malaria. MHA attributed causes like personal enmity, mental illness, marital discord and work-related stress to such a high number of men taking their own lives. After NDA II came to power in May last year, the Centre decided to work on several aspects to make the force effective. Besides raising its own intelligence unit, the CRPF is also focusing on welfare of the jawans. There is plan to provide enough rest to those posted in hard areas before they are transferred again to the Naxal-hit areas. Earlier, the government had taken measures to implement a transparent, rational and fair leave policy. There will be more interaction between jawans and officers as well as reforms in the grievance redressal machinery.
According to MHA, Naxalites raise money through a variety of sources, including extortion from contractors, businessmen, industries, government servants etc. They are also involved in confiscation of properties of the rich land owners. The ministry says many cases of extortion are not reported for fear of violent reprisal from the ultras. The most comprehensive analysis was prepared by security forces in a secret note in August 2013, listing 14 sources for Maoist-funding, ranging from individuals to industries. The note said PWD works have been a successful method of gaining funds for Naxalites in red corridors, and they are also targeting educational institutions, liquor business, tendu leaf contractors, mines and government servants as well as politicians. The note said usually an over-ground member of the outfit or an NGO is deputed to collect the fixed extortion amount from these sources. It also said Maoists issued guidelines through ‘Our Financial Policy’, a written document for proper expenditure. It said they are collecting every year approximately Rs 140 crore from business houses. The amount to be collected each year is decided by the central committee of Maoists. Each level of ultras maintains a detailed statement of money collected. A consolidated expenditure is prepared by the commander and submitted to the higher committee at regular meetings. But are the sources drying up due to government’s two-pronged strategy of development and security operations? Maoist literatures seized by security forces suggest so. People’s March admitted that reform measures have been speeded up, remote tribal villages are now witnessing regular visit by government officials, roads are being built, houses being repaired and rations being granted to neutralise the Maoists propaganda.
Official data says 140 Naxalites surrendered in the last three months, with the maximum 70 in Andhra Pradesh followed by 38 in Chhattisgarh. Last year, 387 Naxalites laid down their arms in Chhattisgarh, followed by Andhra (130) and Odisha (94). The police in Jharkhand claimed to have arrested 230 Naxalites in 2014. A total of 656 Naxalites surrendered last year while 1,689 were arrested in the country. A senior police officer of Jharkhand says surrender at best could be used as Psy-War against Naxalites, but forces cannot lower the guard by interpreting the numbers. “If we look at the figures of the last five years, 11,991 Naxalites either surrendered or were arrested. Going by this official figure, there should not be more that 3,000 Naxalites in the jungle. But is this true? We don’t know, neither does the government,” the officer says.