Odisha: Enduring challenges

The Indian government is trying to further strengthen intelligence-gathering mechanisms so that anti-LWE operations would be further intensified in the affected areas, with a special focus on Boudh.

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File Photo of the members of Communist Party of India-Maoist

On February 3, 2024, a ‘divisional committee member (DCM)’ of the ‘Kandhamal-Kalahandi-Boudh-Nayagarh (KKBN) division’ of the Communist Party of India – Maoist (CPI-Maoist), identified as Dasru, carrying a cash award of INR 500,000 on his head, was killed by the Police during an exchange of fire at the Kakerkupa area in the Kandhamal District of Odisha. One Policeman also suffered injuries during the encounter. Dasru, who was from Chhattisgarh, was wanted in more than 20 cases in the Kandhamal and Boudh districts of Odisha.

This is the lone fatality recorded in the state in Naxalite [Left Wing Extremism (LWE)]-linked violence in the state in the current year, thus far (data till February 11, 2024).

According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Odisha recorded nine fatalities, including three civilians and six Naxalites (Left Wing Extremists), in LWE-related violence in 2023. In 2022, there was a total of 17 fatalities, including seven civilians, three Security Force (SF) personnel and seven Maoists. The data thus reflected a decline of 47.05 per cent in overall fatalities in LWE-linked violence in the state in 2023, as compared to 2022.

It is worth noting here that the trend of declining fatalities on a year-on-year basis in LWE-linked violence in the state has been established since 2016, with the exception of 2020 and 2022, and has continued through 2023.

The number of total LWE-linked incidents came down from 53 in 2022 to 48 in 2023. Six incidents have been recorded in the current year: one killing incident (mentioned above), two incidents of exchange of fire, two incidents of surrender (resulting in two surrenders in one incident and one surrender in the second), and one explosion.

Killing incidents fell from 12 in 2022 to five in 2023, the lowest recorded in a year since 2010, when a maximum of 62 such incidents were recorded, resulting in 112 killed, including 62 civilians, 18 SF personnel, 30 Maoists and two fatalities in the ‘not specified’ category.  

Civilian fatalities registered a decline of 57.14 per cent in 2023, in comparison to 2022, from seven to three. This was the second lowest number of civilian fatalities recorded in a year since March 6, 2000, when SATP started documenting data on LWE-linked violence across the country. The same number of three fatalities was also recorded in 2001, 2002, 2006 and 2021.A low of two civilian fatalities was recorded in 2000, and 2003. A high of 62 civilian fatalities in the State was recorded in 2010.

Significantly, SFs did not lose any troopers through 2023, as against three fatalities recorded in 2022. On the other hand, SFs neutralised six Maoists in 2023 in addition to seven in 2022. The overall kill ratio since March 6, 2000, favours the SFs at 1:1.45.

Meanwhile, SFs arrested five Maoists in 2023, in addition to the five in 2022. Further, mounting SF pressure resulted in the surrender of five Maoists in 2023. 2,498 Maoists, including ‘militia’ [people’s army members carrying rudimentary weapons and providing logistics support to the core group of the People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA)] members surrendered in 2022.

Giving a major jolt to the Maoists, the SFs unearthed several weapons’ dumps and recovered a huge cache of arms and explosives, including Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), muzzle-loading guns, homemade grenades, gelatin sticks, detonators, cordex wire bundles, on 31 occasions in 2023, in addition to 27 such occasions in 2022. The total number of such recoveries since March 6, 2000, was 620. In the current year, two such incidents of arms recovery have already been recorded so far (data till February 11, 2024).

Other parameters of violence also registered some decline. Two incidents of arson carried out against civilian construction companies were recorded in 2023, as against five in 2022. Eight incidents of exchange of fire between SFs and Maoists were recorded in 2023, as against 10 in 2022.

Fatalities in 2023 were recorded in four Districts – Kalahandi and Malkangiri (three each), Nabarangpur (two) and Kandhamal (one). In 2022, six Districts registered fatalities – Kandhamal (six), Nuapada (four), Bolangir, Kalahandi and Koraput (two each), and Malkangiri (one).

According to SATP data for 2023, based on assessments of underground and over-ground activities of the Maoists, four districts – Kalahandi, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur and Kandhamal – remained moderately affected; while, eight districts – Bargarh, Boudh, Ganjam, Koraput, Mayurbhanj, Nuapada, Rayagada, and Sundargarh – were in the marginally affected category. In 2022, six districts – Bolangir, Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Koraput, Malkangiri and Nuapada – were moderately affected; while, three districts – Bargarh, Nabarangpur and Rayagada – were marginally affected.

Clearly, SF successes on the ground have led to improvements in the overall security situation in the state, though concerns persist.

A February 10, 2024, report indicated that the Maoists were trying to regain lost ground in Malkangiri District, exerting efforts to strengthen their organisation with regular visits to villages in the Swabhiman Anchal (earlier known as the ‘cutoff area’ of the district), and those bordering Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, to assess the situation.

On December 21, 2023, the CPI-Maoist cadres blew up a railway track at Binuan village, between Manoharpur and Rourkela Railway Station in Sundargarh District. More than 20 trains were stranded at different stations due to the violence by the Maoists.

On December 20, 2023, State Director General of Police (DGP) Sunil Kumar Bansal disclosed that the major focus was now on the Kandhamal-Kalahandi and Boudh axes, which had emerged as the new flash points of Maoist activities.

Earlier, on November 30, 2023, Border Security Force (BSF) Inspector General (IG) Dhaneswar K.R. Sharma stated that the CPI-Maoist menace still prevailed in four districts of Odisha, adding:

No Naxal-related activity was reported from Malkangiri and Koraput districts in the last three years. But Naxal activities are still being reported from districts like Kandhamal, Boudh, Kalahandi, and Nuapada… We have to be more alert in the areas of those districts that share borders with Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, and Jharkhand.

Meanwhile, the government is trying to further strengthen intelligence-gathering mechanisms so that anti-LWE operations would be further intensified in the affected areas, with a special focus on Boudh. The establishment of 11 new Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and BSF camps in remote areas is also being discussed in detail. Moreover, Odisha Police has also planned to procure six high-tech drones to carry out surveillance in Naxalite-affected districts such as Malkangiri, Koraput, Kalahandi, Kandhamal, Boudh, Nuapada, and Rayagada. The drones will give security agencies a boost, to keep a close vigil on the movement of Naxals, who may try to carry out demonstrative acts of violence to make their presence felt and boost the morale of the rank and file, especially ahead of the upcoming Parliamentary Elections of 2024. It may be noted that, at present, Odisha Police has mini drones, but they have not proved very effective and cannot be used at night.

Persistent and unaddressed deficits, moreover, also present some difficulties. According to the latest Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) data, as on January 1, 2022, the Odisha Police does face a persistent deficit in terms of capacities and strength. Odisha had 122.59 Police personnel per 100,000 population, significantly below the severely inadequate national average of 152.80. More worryingly, the Police/Area Ratio (number of policemen per 100 square kilometres) was just 36.11, as against the national average of 63.70. Both the State and national averages on the Police/Area ratio were well below the sanctioned strength, at 43.52 and 81.80, respectively. The sanctioned strength for the States’ Police was 67,769, while just 56,227 personnel were in position, creating a deficit of 17.03 per cent against sanctioned strength. In addition, the sanctioned strength of the apex Indian Police Service (IPS) Officers in the State was 195, but just 120 officers were in position, a deficit of 38.46 per cent that considerably weakens the executive supervision of the Force.

In recent years, Maoist activities in Odisha have been contained to a great extent. However, exhaustive and aggressive SF operations in the remaining affected areas are an inevitability to foil necessary to ensure that Maoist plans and efforts to engineer a resurrection don’t succeed.

Deepak Kumar Nayak

Deepak Kumar Nayak, Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi, India

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