Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management
A release from the Odisha State Police Headquarters, on August 4, 2022, read,
Like previous years, the banned CPI (Maoist) (Communist Party of India-Maoist) observed Martyrs' Week from July 28 to August 3 in the country. But unlike previous years, the Martyrs' Week passed off without any incident this year in Malkangiri and Koraput districts, which remained a strong bastion of the outfit for more than three decades. For the first time, there was not even a single incident of affixing of banner or poster, no meeting by the Maoists in the villages, no martyrs' pillar was inaugurated, no road blocking by felling trees and no violent incident took place. In the past years, during Martyrs' Week, the Maoist activities used to be very high.
Indeed, according to the partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), no Maoist-linked incident was reported during the Martyrs Week in 2022. In fact, it was way back in 2018 that three incidents were reported: Maoists organized a 'Praja Meli' (Villagers Assembly) in a bid to mobilise public support on the last day of 'Martyrs' Week' (Shaheed Saptah) in Koraput District on August 3; a man sustained critical injuries after being shot at by CPI-Maoist cadres in Koraput District on July 29; and the Maoists organised a camp to register their protest against the inauguration of the Gurupriya Bridge in Malkangiri District on July 28. Moreover, the last fatality reported during the 'Martyrs' Week' was on July 29, 2014, when a tribal village head, identified as Bira Padiami, was killed and his wife critically injured in an explosion inside the forest near Darbhaguda village in the Kalimela Police Station area in Malkangiri District.
On August 1, 2022, Odisha Minister of State (MoS) for Home Tusharkanti Behera informed the State Legislative Assembly that a total of 231 Security Force (SF) personnel and 342 civilians had been killed in Naxalite [Left Wing Extremism, LWE] violence in the State from 2000 to 2021. During the same period, a total of 331 SF personnel and 176 civilians were injured in such violence. He also disclosed that as many as 431 Naxalites [Left Wing Extremists], militia members and sympathisers had surrendered in Odisha between 2012 and 2022, and had returned to the mainstream. He, however, did not provide the number of Naxalites killed.
Further, on July 20, 2022, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik informed the State Assembly that “the intensity of overall Maoist violence has come down in the State.”
While there is visible and overall improvement, recent data suggests that residual problems continue to afflict the State.
According to the SATP database, Odisha recorded at least seven fatalities (four civilians and three SF personnel) in the first half of 2022 (data till June 30). During the corresponding period in 2021, five fatalities (two civilians and three Maoists) were recorded. The last fatality, in the current year, was reported on June 21, 2022.
An analysis of the half-yearly fatalities suggests an upward trend in the State after 2020. The number of civilian fatalities, a key index of security in a region, increased from two in 2021 to four in 2022. There were two civilian fatalities in this category, during the January-August 5 period in 2020 as well. 2020 and 2021 civilian fatalities were the lowest since 2015, when there were seven such fatalities during this period.
Moreover, while the State had not recorded any SF fatality during this period, for three consecutive years (2019 and 2021), 2022 has registered three SF fatalities. On the other hand, no Maoist was killed. This is the first time since 2017 that the kill ratio in the first seven months of a year favors the Maoists.
On June 21, 2022, three Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, including two Assistant Sub-Inspectors (ASI)s, were killed in a CPI-Maoist attack in the Patadhara Reserve Forest in the Bheden Block (administrative division) of Nuapada District. The attack reportedly took place when the CRPF personnel were going from one camp to another, and it is suspected that the Maoists had prior information regarding the movement of the Forces.
Taking note on the incident, CRPF Director General (DG) Kuldiep Singh asked all Inspector Generals of Police (IGP) in the State to suspend all Road-Opening Parties (ROPs) until they fulfilled checks and drills given by the headquarters and certified them.
An unnamed senior official of CRPF, said,
The DG has said that a sufficient number of troops must move instead of going for ROP in fewer numbers. This makes everyone vulnerable. Also, senior officers must do recce, analyse all relevant things and prepare drills. Intelligence inputs must be reviewed as well and a sufficient number of required gadgets must be carried by troops to avoid such incidents.
Annual data also suggests some sources of additional concern. On year-on-year basis, though civilian fatalities declined between 2017 and 2021, dropping from 27 in 2016 to three in 2021, they are already at four in 2022, with almost five months still left (data till August 7). Similarly, in the SF category, while SF fatalities dropped from nine in 2017 to one each in 2018 and 2019, they increased to two in 2020, though no such fatality was recorded in 2021. However, three SF fatalities have already taken place in 2022 (till August 7). A maximum of 27 civilians were killed in 2010 and 77 SF personnel in 2008.
Significantly, according to a June 23, 2022, report, the Contractors’ Association of Kalahandi District came forward and put-up posters pleading with the rebels to support them in road construction works. The leaflets were addressed to the CPI-Maoist Odisha ‘State Committee’, requesting the Maoists not to make any disturbances in the ongoing projects citing that the road works along with all the amenities would contribute to the lives of the locals. Further, the association emphasized that students would receive better education with the installation of telecom towers in remote pockets. The posters also stated that tribals had a right to live a better life, and this should not be hampered by the Maoists, as development in the region alone could improve their next generation.
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) included Kandhamal, Malkangiri and Kalahandi Districts, in its list, issued on June 19, 2021, of ‘25 Most Affected Districts’ from eight States across India. Further, Koraput is classified as a 'District of Concern' among eight such Districts in six States. Moreover, 10 Districts, Bargarh, Bolangir, Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur, Nuapada, Rayagada, and Sundargarh, in Odisha are also included among the 70 Naxal-affected Districts in 10 States across India, which are covered under the Centre’s ‘Security Related Expenditure (SRE)’ scheme, which funds focused operations against the rebels.
Meanwhile, according to a July 14, 2022, report, a joint meeting of the Odisha Police and Chhattisgarh Police was held on July 14, 2022, at Raipur of Chhattisgarh, with the objective of intensifying operations against the Maoists to thwart their possible activities in the near future. Both the States also agreed to monitor the border check posts to block the movement of Naxalites.
Currently, 46 CRPF battalions (each deploying around 400 personnel on the ground), and 48 Border Security Force (BSF) Companies (each deploying about 80 personnel on the ground) are located in 10 Districts in Odisha – Bargarh, Bolangir, Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur, Nuapada, Rayagada, and Sundargarh – to counter the Maoists.
The Maoist have faced dramatic reverses in the State as well as across the country. Nevertheless, they continue to make sustained efforts to regain their influence in the region, albeit with little success. Continuous and sustained SF operations are consequently needed to further consolidate the SF successes in the State.