Friday, July 17, 2009

CRPF-police dispute adds to Naxal-hit Chhattisgarh’s woes

18 Jul 2009, 0549 hrs IST, Bharti Jain, ET Bureau

NEW DELHI: Chattisgarh may be bearing the brunt of most lethal Naxalite attacks, but the widening gulf between CRPF and the state police on operational matters has virtually jammed joint counter-strikes aimed at liberating Maoist strongholds.

At the centre of the dispute are a set of strict pre-conditions set by CRPF for deployment of its troops for anti-Naxal operations, which the state police say have made joint strikes virtually impossible. CRPF, which has lost several personnel to ambushes and landmine attacks during operations recently decided not to undertake any major operation in Chhattisgarh unless national security or multiple civilian lives were endangered.

The decision not to be involved in major operations for now stems from CRPF’s assessment that Naxalites have stepped up violence in the post-election scenario and are particularly targeting the security forces to avenge the recent killing of its Central committee member Sudhakar Reddy. This was evident from the killing of 11 CRPF personnel in an attack in Dantewada on June 20.

The Dantewada incident rattled CRPF headquarters enough to issue an immediate order on June 21, asking its commanding officers in Chhattisgarh not to be part of any major pro-active counter-operations unless national security was at stake. Instead, force commanders on the ground were told not to move beyond 5 km from their respective camps in Naxal-infested areas, and even within this distance, focus only on road opening and laying ambushes on the approach roads used by Naxalites.

The CRPF circular makes it clear that any violation or non-compliance of the instructions would invite punitive action against the defaulting officers. The 4-5 km limit set by CRPF for movement of its troops beyond their camps, a senior police official pointed, renders impossible any counter-operations in the Maoist heartland, which is located in the deep jungles, often requiring a trek of 15-30 km. Also, the fact that road-opening is done only up to 4-5 km from the base CRPF camp, has been exposing the state armed police undertaking operations on their own, to landmine attacks.

The second pre-condition for requisition of CRPF troops by the civil police requires the latter to match the numbers of central forces sought with their own men. Not only this, CRPF has made it clear that its troops would join the police contingent only if it is led by a senior officer who is not under the rank of inspector.
The requirement for matching participation of CRPF troops and police is viewed as impractical by the latter which is way short of numbers when compared with CRPF’s strength.

As against 13 battalions of CRPF deployed in Chhattisgarh, the state police has only 6 battalions of its armed police engaged in counter-Naxal
operations. CRPF’s insistence on a minimum inspector-level officer to head the civilian police party is also a tall order as several police stations in the Naxal-hit areas are short-staffed and often headed by a sub-inspector. Any CRPF participation in a counter operation is ruled out in these police stations. Even in police stations where an inspector level officer is available, only one operation can be undertaken at a time.

The Centre’s take, however, is that the rule for matching participation by the police in a joint operation with CRPF is also being followed successfully in West Bengal, with its state police contributing 50% of the forces engaged in the Lalgarh operation. Also, the presence of a senior police officer familiar with the local terrain is seen as crucial to averting casualties in a joint operation, especially when CRPF has lost several troops in earlier operations where only a couple of SPOs or constables made up the police contingent.

CPRF, in its instructions dated June 21, has also disallowed any movement of its troops outside the company area without approval of the DIG concerned. This is again seen as impractical in emergency situations as the DIG may not always be at hand to offer his clearance. According to a senior state police official, the pre-conditions only ensured that CRPF stays put in the safe zones around its camps, rather than risking the lives of its men to fight the real battle against the Naxalites.

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