Thursday, October 11, 2007

Guard against Naxal violence

The Union Government is taking a close look to ascertain why Naxalites are penetrating the hinterland and making deep inroads in 150 of the 650 districts of India in at least 16 of the 28 states of India, especially in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, including Andhra and even West Bengal.
These states continue to be under attack from Maoists. The Centre is keeping a watch over the Maoists' stance in Nepal where they have left the government and stepped up their guerrilla actions to assess whether there are links between the Indian and Nepalese outfits, especially in the border areas.

Even though the Maoists of Nepal had at one time threatened to link up from Pashupatinath, the famous Shiva temple complex in Kathmandu, to Tirupathi in Andhra, they later denied such intentions, but such denials cannot be taken at their face value.

Intelligence and law and order authorities cannot afford to relax their vigil for eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Thus they are not being sanguine about any actions, including loot, arson and murder, taken by the Naxalites. In the light of this, the Cabinet Secretary, KM Chandrashekhar, visited Jharkhand in late September to make a first-hand assessment of the extent of Naxalites violence.

He met the officials and political leaders of the State to try to devise a foolproof strategy to curb Naxalites activity. Helicopters have flown over Naxalites hideouts and gathered some information. Satellite imagery has provided some valuable inputs on the extent of Naxalites support, their strength in certain areas and their game plan.

The Cabinet Secretary was accompanied by the Special Secretary for Security in the Home Ministry on the Jharkhand visit. This was an extension of the earlier conferences held in Delhi and State capitals so far to deal with Naxalites.

The Naxalites have for long been attacking railway stations and police stations even in Bihar and several other States. They have also been threatening the wealthy in cities and demanding ransom, although not many of these threats have been heard of lately.

What the Government at the Centre is seriously concerned is that the Naxalites now pose a threat to infrastructure. The affected States have been asked to protect power generation and distribution facilities. The Centre has also been sending paramilitary units to assist the States, besides making available elements of the rapid deployment force, a newly created outfit with national and regional security as the focus.

It has been reported that the Naxalites have fanned out to iron ore mines in the eastern region and have threatened private sector operators of some of these mines. The remote hills of Jharkhand are a region rich in minerals, an endless natural wealth of the 86,000 hectares of Saranda Forest.

This sprawling forest is the headquarters of India's Naxalites movement as it is far from easily accessible. Tens of crores of rupees are charged as levy every year from companies and traders who mine and sell iron ore, precious minerals, besides timber, according to police reports.

This forest is the home of cadres, training bases and rebels' operational command, arrested Naxalites have told the police. One of the arrested Naxalites ideologues is a 66-year-old engineer.

He is a member of the Naxalites politburo and is believed to have been associated with Charu Majumdar and Kanu Sanyal, who founded the Naxalites movement in the summer of 1967 in Naxalbari village of West Bengal.

In the bygone years the Maoist Communist Centre and People's War Group operated in different areas. They merged with the main movement three years ago. This was a turning point.

According to Rural Development Ministry the Naxalites are active in 60 districts, but the Home Ministry reports reveal that they have influence in 160 districts of the country.

It is believed that the Naxalites commanders have been collecting Rs. 60 crores from private mines as a levy every year in return for a promise of not harassing them. Keeping in view the deep economic distress in tribal areas where vanavasis have seen forests cut down and lost their ability to live off the land, as they have done for ages, the Naxalites have tried to recruit disaffected and starving youth, trained them in weapons handling and put them in some kind of uniform and promised them a monthly wage of Rs 3,000 per head.

Whether such a wage has been paid at all or discontinued after a time once the youth is trapped is not known. But official agencies are keeping a close watch on these activities. Whether they can dissuade the youth of the area to lay down their arms and bring the tribals back to the mainstream by organizing village defence societies is not yet certain.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly impressed on the Chief Ministers of the States and their law enforcement agencies that police action or Para military forces alone cannot root out Naxalites from the Indian landscape. The real cause of youth being disaffected is economic and it is important to address that problem. The Rozgar Yojana has now been extended and launched all over the country. It promises 100 Mondays of work in a year to totally unemployed and destitute families. Some success of this scheme has been reported. Besides cheap grain supplies and midday meal schemes in schools in areas where the poorest of the poor live have been launched, but there have been reports of diversion of grain worth thousands of crores of rupees from the public distribution system to the market by unscrupulous elements. These law breakers are sought to be booked and punished. Food must reach the needy without being pilfered on the way. The Centre and States are hopefully paying attention to this aspect as part of the overall scheme for the welfare of the languishing aam adami. The ruling United Progressive Alliance led by the Congress realizes that a General Election could be round the corner and it must try to live up to the slogan it raised in the summer of 2004 if it has to be re-elected. It must also be seen to be genuinely living up to its professions.

Lalit Sethi, NPA

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