Saturday, June 27, 2009

Orissa steps up measures to tackle Maoist menace

Vinay Kumar

Nearly half of 30 districts are hit by Maoist activities

Anti-extremist training schools to be set up

Resource centre of the SOG being set up

KORAPUT: Concerned over the increasing activities of Maoist cadres, the Orissa government is gearing up to tackle the menace by clubbing together development programmes with security measures.

Maoist activities have affected nearly half of the 30 districts, of which 10 are facing a serious situation. Though senior police officials say that Maoist cadres are mainly “exported” from Chhattisgarh and the adjoining Andhra Pradesh, they admit that some local recruitment has also started.

Traditionally known to enjoy an easy lifestyle with minimum basic needs, people in Orissa have been shaken by the increase in violent activities of the Left wing extremists. The people are not known to be aggressive and fierce fighters. “Even in the Army they take up jobs in signal corps, canteen, but they never opt for infantry,” commented a senior police official.

Four committees active

As many as four committees of Maoists — the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa border special zone committee, the Dandakarniya special zone committee, the Bengal-Jharkhand-Orissa border committee and the Orissa State committee — are said to be active in Orissa but the leadership is being provided by the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa committee.

Realising that it has become a “full-fledged guerrilla warfare,” Orissa has stepped up measures to tackle Left wing extremism. The State is setting up two counter-insurgency, anti-extremist training schools, one in Bhubaneshwar and the other in Koraput, at a total cost of Rs.3 crore.

In addition, a resource centre of the Special Operations Group (SOG) is also being established. The State Police, with a total strength of about 50,000 personnel, is making anti-extremist training compulsory for all new recruits.

The Centre has given Rs.1.5 crore each for the two counter-insurgency schools for basic accommodation and training hall and has also agreed to provide Rs.1.5 crore as salary component every year for the next four years. A retired colonel of the Army and 18 Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs) are being entrusted with the rigorous training of police recruits in counter-insurgency tactics. The new facilities would be able to train nearly 1,500 police personnel in a year.

After his two-day visit to Koraput and Kandhamal districts and a review meeting with Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram said on Friday that it would take a while before a motivated State police force was able to take on Maoist cadres head on. He said that naxal problem was neglected for the last 10 years and added that it would be a long time before the menace was eradicated.

While ruling out Army action in anti-naxal operations, he said that the State police was competent to handle the situation. The State had asked for seven more battalions (about 7,000 troops) of the Central paramilitary forces to tackle the Maoists. Currently, there are four battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force.

Not well placed

Senior State police officials sought to draw a comparison with Chhattisgarh, where the worst-affected Dantewada district had a presence of 44 companies of the Central forces while Orissa’s worst-hit Malkangiri district had only four companies. Orissa has only 92 policemen per lakh population as against the national average of 142 policemen.

The State police has recruited about 4,000 constables over the past six months and the process of their training has started.

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