Friday, July 17, 2009

Safe haven for Maoists

Rajaram Satapathy, TNN 17 July 2009, 11:04pm IST

BHUBANESWAR: Maoists take rest in police posts. Sounds incredible, but it was not long ago when these extremists from Andhra Pradesh and

Chhattisgarh trekking on hills, through forests and crossing rivers would enter Orissa, rest their arms on surveillance posts in remote areas set up exclusively to watch Maoist activities. They would visit villages, hold meetings and go shopping before returning to their camps back in Andhra Pradesh.

The lathi-wielding cops failed to recognize the traps the left wing extremists (LWEs) were laying for them. The bosses in Bhubaneswar never bothered to find out what was really going on in these far-flung southern districts. The official attitude was rather friendlier. The government came to sense only when the Maoists struck Motu and Kalimela police stations in Malkangiri district in 2001. For the unprepared state police taking on the well-trained, armed and organized Maoists was not so easy. Added to their woes was the government's apathy in taking more than five years to declare the Maoists as outlaws.

As the LWE attacks continued, the consequence is for anyone to see to believe. At one time, Malkangiri district was by far the only pocket synonymous with Maoist mayhem. They have since then, spread to more than half of Orissa's 30 districts. However, officially only 15 districts are listed as LWE-affected. After repeated attacks on the Similipal tiger sanctuary in Mayurbhanj district, the Maoists have virtually taken over the 2,750 sqkm forestland, forcing tourists to strike it from their itinerary.

In Malkangiri district, the cut-off area across Balimela reservoir is out of bounds for officials. A block office, built at a cost of Rs 3.5 crore to cater to the needs of nearly 25,000 people, is now lying idle. People avoid travelling in the southern districts even during the day. In the west, Maoists revived their operation recently, killing a police official at point blank during combing operations in Sambalpur district.

Narayanpatna and Bandhugaon blocks of Koraput district have all but slipped out of government control, where tribals backed by them have been on a land grabbing spree. Kandhamal district, which was, until recently, considered quiet and peaceful with its beautiful forests and hills, has become the latest hub of the Maoists.

The state government had all along put the onus on the Centre. But the recent statement of Union home minister P Chidambaram in the Parliament speaks volumes for the cavalier attitude of the state government in doing its part to contain the escalating violence by the Red rebels. He elaborated on how the Maoist menace had been underestimated at the state level and threw light on the alienation of people in the face of developmental programmes not reaching them. Officials here corroborate Chidambaram's statement, citing rampant misappropriation of development funds meant for ameliorating the nagging poverty of the region. Official inputs indicate that nearly Rs 1,704 crore had been pumped into the tribal-dominated region by the Centre, through the special KBK Yojana that was launched with much fanfare in 1998.

Amid raising public against gross embezzlement of funds when the Centre refused to extend the scheme, chief minister Naveen Patnaik launched the Biju KBK Yojana, which in the last three years has invested nearly 150 crore out of the sanctioned Rs 260 crore. But the tribals of the region continue to remain where they were.

At a recent meeting, only 14 per cent villages in Malkangiri were cited as electrified. "Road communication is still worse, which actually pose a bigger problem for police to reach the trouble pockets. When government has failed the Maoists have taken over governance on their own terms. The hapless tribals have no choice to but to turn to them without demur," said a Koraput district official. "The government's myopic outlook is evident from the kind of people posted in key posts like collector and SPs," he added.

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