Chidambaram’s statement before he reviewed the anti-naxal operations along with Home minister R R Patil, speaks volumes about the state of affairs in Maharashtra. It not only speaks about the anti-naxal operations, but also the policing in general. Somewhere something has gone wrong.
After maintaining an upper hand over the left wing extremism for several years at a stretch, the anti-naxal operations of Maharashtra Police have witnessed a slow down or sudden sloppiness in the past four-five years. As Chidambaram pointed out earlier, there has been a rise in naxal violence and killings in the Gadchiroli district. And importantly, the morale of the police force is at the bottom now.
Naxal violence in the form of killing of police personnel and civilians is nothing new in the naxal-affected areas for years in varying intensity. Those who have worked in anti-naxal operations take it as part of the game, where sometimes police has advantage and at times the naxals.
What has changed now from then and is worrisome is the speed at which naxals have gained upper hand in the district in the past few years. Something unheard in the past has started happening. Naxal cadre have started appearing bang opposite police chowkies and outposts and challenging the men in khaki. There have been instances reported recently where police informers or suspected police informers have been killed very close to the police presence.
More civilians have been killed in Gadchiroli this year than police personnel. And the police does not deserves a pat for this. The reason why lesser police personnel have been killed is because the armed forces in Gadchiroli have nearly stopped patrolling and have restricted themselves to their positions.
Two wrong policy decisions in the past have contributed for this low morale of police and weakening of anti-naxal operations in Maharashtra.
One, the decision to create two police districts within one revenue district of Gadchiroli and later deploying a DIG to head the newly formed Gadchiroli range; secondly, decision of political masters to discourage police from taking pro-active role out of fear of casualties during such operations.
The decision to bifurcate Gadchiroli into two police districts was taken in the regime of then then Maharashtra DGP S S Virk, who had witnessed success in the fight against terrorism in Punjab this way. Top police officers had contended then that Gadchiroli was administratively unmanageable due to its sheer size. From north to south, the liner distance between two points of the district is over 300 kms. Dividing the district in two would serve the purpose, they felt.
Therefore, Gadchiroli was bifurcated in two police districts, Gadchiroli and Aheri, to be headed by two SPs. On the top of it, Maha police bosses also bifurcated Nagpur police range by carving out a Gadchiroli range consisting of the two police districts in Gadchiroli and attaching Gondia to it. A DIG was stationed in Gadchiroli to head the range.
The move spell a disaster for Gadchiroli police. The district SP became a figure head as all operations, decisions were being taken by the DIG Range. A decision to post an SP from Central Paramilitary Forces (CPFs) to head the new Aheri police district, also boomeranged.
And then came the final nail. Cornered by the opposition as well as members of the ruling coalition over a series of landmine blasts in Gadchiroli that claimed lives of several police personnel more than a year and half ago, the Home department apparently asked cops to go slow in the anti-naxal operations.
The C60 commondo units and police station staff was asked not to venture too deep in the jungle for long range patrolling (LRP), and instead limit themselves to peripheral protection of their bases. The decision though reduced future casualities in the force, emboldened naxals. The forces became lethargic to the extent that provocation from naxals outside police stations and OPs was not replied to adequately.
The lethargy in the force and the failure of the bosses to boost morale became so apparent that the Ministry of Home Affairs shot off a letter last year to Maharashtra government asking forces to show presence in the jungles. A month ago, Chidambaram, during his visit to Mumbai, had asked Maha govt to make the anti-naxal operation more effective.
According to sources, Home Minister R R Patil and other Maha police officers are in a mood to scrap the Gadchiroli range experiment and the DIG range post. May be in the coming months, Maha may go back to its old time-tested anti-naxal operation, and compete with its glorious past.