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Bihar: Persistent Vulnerabilities

Posted on Feb 25, 06:32PM | IBNS

By South Asia Intelligence Review: Eight persons, including six Police personnel and one Special Police Officer (SPO), were killed when Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres blew up a Police vehicle between Uchla and Dhamania villages under the Roshanganj Police Station in Gaya District, on February 22, 2013. The eighth person was a civilian travelling with the Police.

The Police party had gone to Balasot village on the request of the local Child Development Project Officer (CDPO), to provide security cover to a programme organized there for recruitment of village level workers.

Just a month earlier, on January 21, about 50 Security Force (SF) personnel had escaped narrowly when Maoists triggered a landmine blast on the road at Salaiya More in Dumuria Block in the same District, moments after troopers had walked away from the blast location.

Again, on October 18, 2012, six Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers were killed and another eight CRPF troopers, including a Deputy Commandant, were injured, when CPI-Maoist cadres triggered an improvised explosive device (IED) blast, blowing up a Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) near the Chakarbandha Forest, in Barha village under the Dumaria Police Station in Gaya District. The CRPF troopers were returning after conducting a raid on a Maoist hideout.

These incidents reaffirm the enduring capacities of the Maoists, despite significant losses of leaders and cadres, and in spite of declining levels of violence.

According to partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Bihar recorded 41 fatalities in 2012, in Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-related violence, including 16 civilians, 10 SF personnel, and 15 Maoists. In 2011, 61 fatalities had been recorded, including 39 civilians, three SF personnel and 19 Maoists. Though a sharp decline has been registered in civilian fatalities, SF fatalities increased from three to 10, while Maoist fatalities declined marginally.

Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) data also confirmed these trends, recording 49 total fatalities in 2012, including 34 civilians, 10 SF personnel and five Maoists; as against 77 fatalities in 2011, including 60 civilians, three SF personnel and 14 Maoists.

Five major incidents (involving three or more fatalities) were recorded in 2012, as against six such incidents in 2011. In one such incident, on June 10, 2012, SFs comprising Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA), Special Task Force (STF) and Bihar Military Police (BMP) troopers, entered into a familiar Maoist trap - after receiving purported information of Maoist presence - in the Chakarbandha Forest under the Dumaria Police Station in Gaya District. One MPV was damaged and one trooper died in a landmine blast, while another succumbed to a heart attack. SFs shot dead two Maoists. It was subsequently discovered that the Maoists had planted nearly 85 landmines in the area.

The Maoists were also involved in seven cases of recorded abductions. Among these, they killed a total of six people in two incidents. Further, in an audacious attempt in broad daylight, on June 20, 2012, the Maoists abducted 19 Railway employees, including a Station Master, in Jamui District. However, they released the hostages later the same evening.

The Maoists were also involved in 18 recorded incidents of arson, and particularly targeted road construction works, setting ablaze equipment and vehicles. 12 sand-laden trucks were set ablaze at Gidheshwar Ghat under the Khaira Police Station area in Jamui District, for defying the two-day East Bihar and Jharkhand bandh (general shot down) called by the Maoists on March 22, 2012, to protest the arrest of five of their leaders from various places in Bihar and Jharkhand.

Most of the parameters remain comparable in both years, and the high number of arrests stands out. In fact, the number of Maoists arrested in 2012 in Bihar was the highest (422) among the Maoist-affected states, followed by Chhattisgarh (397), Jharkhand (377), Andhra Pradesh (312), Odisha (186), Maharashtra (78), West Bengal (76), and others (34). Two significant indicators - the number of arms training camps held and the number of Jan Adalats ('People's Courts', kangaroo courts organized by the Maoists) showed significant decline, from 12 to five and 17 to 10, respectively.

In 2011, State police had made several significant arrests, a performance they could not repeat in 2012. Nevertheless, at least one 'commandeer', two 'zonal commanders', nine 'sub-zonal commanders', and 13 'area commanders', were arrested in 2012, while one 'area commander' and one 'sub-zonal commander' surrendered.

The SFs recovered large quantities of explosives in combing operations through the year. Among the major seizures were the January 6, 2012, incident, when Bihar Police recovered 500 quintals of explosives in Gaya District. On February 7, in Jamui District, SFs seized nearly two tonnes of explosives and a huge quantity of arms and ammunition, including 13 rifles, 500 detonators, and hundreds of IEDs. Police also seized around 90 quintals of ammonium nitrate and 3,000 detonators which were to be delivered to the mining mafia and the Maoists in Rohtas District, on September 19.

An analysis of underground and overground activities of the Maoists in Bihar indicates that 19 of a total of 38 Districts recorded Maoist-related incidents of some form or other. These were: Aurangabad, Banka, Begusarai, East Champaran, Gaya, Jamui, Jehanabad, Kaimur, Katihar, Munger, Muzaffarpur, Patna, Purnia, Samastipur, Sheohor, Vaishali, Sitamarhi, Saran and Rohtas. In 2011, the number of Districts where Maoist-related incidents occurred numbered 24. Most of the violence in 2012 was, however, concentrated in Gaya, Rohtas, Aurangabad, Munger, Jamui, Sitamarhi and Vaishali Districts.

Suresh Yadav aka Nagendra, an 'area commander' of a Maoist group, who was arrested on December 31, 2011, had disclosed that the Maoists operating in eastern Bihar and neighbouring Jharkhand Districts had regrouped under a new structure, having dissolved their old Jamui-Bhagalpur Committee, and formed a new zonal group - the Eastern Bihar-North Jharkhand Zonal Committee. The new Committee would operate in more than a dozen Districts in eastern Bihar and in some parts of north Jharkhand. Yadav revealed, further, that some members of the Committee had been sent to Nepal for training.

Earlier, speaking at the Chief Ministers' (CM) Conference on Internal Security in New Delhi, on April 16, 2012, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar reiterated his demand for increasing the strength of Central Armed Forces in Bihar. He also sought more financial assistance to implement the 'Aapki Sarkar Aapke Dwar' (Your Government at Your Doorstep) scheme. He claimed, "Our approach, along with the strategy of area domination, intelligence-based operations, providing security to ongoing development works and capacity building of the Police force, is reaping good results."

Chief Minister Kumar, however, expressed dissatisfaction on the slow implementation of the Central Government's flagship schemes, such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA), the Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY, a housing scheme). Interestingly, Union Rural Development (URD) Minister, Jairam Ramesh, on August 25, 2012, warned that the Maoist movement could intensify if adequate steps were not taken to provide basic infrastructure to the rural population.

Despite claims of success and a 'strong' state response, it remains the case that the Police-population ratio (number of Policemen per 100,000 population) in Bihar, at 65, as on December 31, 2011, remained the lowest among Indian States, and indeed, is less than half the national average of 137, according to National Crimes Record Bureau data. The Bihar Police-population ratio rose by just a single digit in a year, from 64 in 2010.

When URD Minister Ramesh visited Sitamarhi District on June 17, 2012, the District administration prevailed upon him not to venture into the Maoist-affected Giddha gram panchayat (village level locals self Government institution) under the Runnisaidpur Block, 35 kilometres from the District headquarters, fearing landmine attack. Ramesh expressed concern over the shortage of Police Force and the low number of Police Stations in Bihar. In Sitamarhi, he observed, for 3.5 million people across 17 blocks, there were only 18 Police Stations, which are also ill-equipped. "This number should be doubled," he noted, adding that "whether it is terrorism or Naxalism, the Police have to fight the menace just as it was achieved by Punjab Police."

Meanwhile, the MHA approved construction of 85 'fortified' Police Stations in Bihar. Further, as part of the exercise to intensify area domination in Maoist-hit Districts of the State, the CRPF has decided to set up a Group Centre in Patna, which will comprise of five battalions, spread over different Districts. The five battalions would be strategically located at Gaya, Jamui, Rohtas, East Champaran and Patna.

The Union Government has also provided Netra, a small toy-like surveillance aircraft, to the CRPF's 159th battalion in Gaya, to keep a close watch on Maoists hiding in dense forests and hills in Gaya.

The decline in violence notwithstanding, the CPI-Maoist retains sufficient capacities for disruptive dominance in large parts of the State. Bihar's persistent and excessive dependence on Central Forces, without any urgent effort to expand and improve the capacities of the State Police, can only leave the State and its people vulnerable to Maoist violence, whenever the rebels decide that an escalation could be strategically advantageous.

(The writer Mrinal Kanta Das is Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management)

(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)