The Union home ministry’s list of LWE-affected districts includes a third now in MP.
Till 2018, Madhya Pradesh only had one district, Balaghat, classified as an LWE-affected district. In 2018, an adjoining tribal and forested district, Mandla, was included in the list. In the latest classification, the MHA has added Dindori, another adjoining district to the Maoist-affected list in MP.
Broadly, the MHA has three categories of LWE-affected districts. The lowest classification and of least concern is a district that is eligible for security related expenditure (SRE). Dindori, the district to be included most recently, has been included in the SRE eligible districts. Simply put, SRE eligible districts get additional funds from the Union government to set up security infrastructure such as camps to combat the Maoists. The MHA has also upgraded Mandla as a ‘district of concern’. Eight districts in six states have been included as districts of concern. Balaghat has been upgraded as a ‘most affected district’, among the 25 in the country accorded this classification.
Madhya Pradesh should be concerned. More districts as LWE affected means areas hitherto with no Maoist presence have started recording their movements. Mandla had its first encounter ever with Maoists in December 2020. Dindori is considered an entry point for members of the ‘Vistaar battalion/ dalam’.
Why has Dindori been included as an SRE eligible district? Sources in the security establishment point out that there has been a spillover effect of Maoist cadre coming from neighbouring Chhattisgarh to Dindori. Dindori is located to the north-east of Mandla and borders Chhattisgarh too. Once Maoist activity picked up in Mandla, it was only logical that it would engulf Dindori. The state government sent a report on Naxal activity there which was corroborated by intelligence agencies leading to the inclusion of Dindori.
"The inclusion of Dindori as an LWE- affected district does not necessarily imply that the Maoist footprint in MP is expanding. Maoist presence in Balaghat district has been recorded for some years now and the forces have been successfully managing the challenge. Dindori's inclusion as an SRE district would enable the forces to launch a more robust and effective response to Maoists through the security infrastructure that would be created," says IG Naxal Operations, MP, Sajid Fareed Shapu.
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The Vistaar battalion of the Maoists has been active in the tri-junction area of MP, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra for the past few years now. The Vistaar battalion/ dalam (literally meaning extension) came up after the Maoists started losing control of territory in south Chhattisgarh (CG) and decided to explore new areas for operations. They felt that opening up a new front would put pressure on forces that were gaining in south CG. Towards this end, a Maoist force was raised to operate in the tri-junction of MP, CG and Maharashtra.
Balaghat, Mandla and Dindori are the districts affected on the MP side, with Kawardha and Rajnandgaon on the Chhattisgarh side and Gadhchiroli on the Maharashtra side. This is the area of operations of the Vistaar dalam.
In February this year, two women Maoists were killed in a gun battle with security forces in Mandla district. This was the first time an encounter between security forces and Maoists was reported from Mandla. In December 2020, two other women Maoists were killed in Kirnapur area of Balaghat district. Balaghat has witnessed half a dozen ‘engagements’ between the forces and Maoists in the last 10 months.
But even as districts are declared LWE affected, they may not be affected in their entirety by the presence of Maoists, but it does give an idea of their expanding footprint. Balaghat district, originally the only LWE affected district in MP, is 9,245 sq. km in area. With the addition of Mandla and Dindori, a 15,000 sq. km area has been added in the last three years.
Sources in the security establishment say that plans are afoot to set up more camps with more central paramilitary personnel. The Hawk Force, MP’s dedicated anti-Naxal force which presently has one battalion but an effective strength of around 1,200, will also see the induction of more personnel.