Sunday, April 11, 2010

For forces, intelligence gathering an uphill task in backward Bastar

Joseph John Posted online: Monday , Apr 12, 2010 at 0146 hrs

Raipur : Intelligence gathering in the conflict zones of tribal Bastar — particularly from the areas close to the so-called liberated Maoist zone of Dandakaranya — has always been a Herculean task for the security forces. Even following up on the information gathered by using an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in the state’s extremely hostile forest terrain is not easy.

Spread over about 40,000 square kilometres, the tribal Bastar region is one of the most remote and backward areas in the country, where communication and transport facilities are non-existent in the vast areas of Dantewada, Narayanpur, Bijapur, Bastar and Kanker districts. The population density is extremely low and people in different villages contact one another at haat, the weekly markets, after travelling a long distance.

A UAV was put to trial in Bastar in the presence of the then governor E S L Narasimhan, who is now governor of Andhra Pradesh, a few years ago at the time when violence had escalated in the region, following the launch of anti-Naxalite movement Salwa Judum. “There are no questions about the efficacy of a UAV as it can scan the area, track any movements and transmit real-time pictures to the security forces,” a senior official told The Indian Express.

However, there are limitations to utilising the information gathered by using the UAV. “Certainly it gives an edge to the troops in information gathering. But if the UAV spots any unusual movement or a congregation at a particular place in the forests, this information will be useful for a surgical strike only if the security forces are around the area at an approachable distance,” he said, adding that considering Bastar’s vast geographical area with dense forests it was difficult to get the desired results in operations against the Maoists.

“Intelligence gathering in remote forest areas is a very slow process that gradually develops only over a period of time. The flow of information is very slow because of the distance involved and lack of communication and transport facilities. Besides being a conflict zone, there is an overall lack of trust among the people. The presence of civil administration is virtually non-existent in many areas of Dantewada district. All these factors hinder the smooth flow of information,” said a senior police officer posted in Bastar.

While traditional intelligence gathering in Bastar is an extremely difficult task with the police and paramilitary forces facing many odds in this regard, the Maoists have their own well-oiled information network which they often use to set off false alarms to lure the security forces into a trap.

Disagreeing with the perception that a massive intelligence failure had led to the killing of 76 security personnel near Chintalnar, Director General of Police Vishwaranjan said such views were being expressed by those who did not have any idea about the ground realities and how the system works.

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